Who is William Barr?
Attorney General William Barr, about a month after starting his second stint atop the Justice Department, issued a letter to lawmakers Sunday offering his summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
His four-page letter to lawmakers capped off a weekend that may come to mark one of the highest profile episodes of his lengthy legal career.
The following is adapted from a December 2018, article on Attorney General William Barr’s career at the time of his nomination.
Justice Department veterans celebrated President Donald Trump’s choice of Barr in December to take over the job as attorney general on a permanent basis after his dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions a month earlier.
At the time, Barr was a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush who worked his way up from a night school law student through the ranks of the Justice Department, which he helmed decades ago. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was said to be “elated” by the choice of Barr and Sessions always held his predecessor in high regard, a source close to both men told CNN.
Barr had been semi-retired for a number of years, and the move was an unusual boomerang back into government service for Barr, 68, who left the Justice Department for top corporate roles, including as the general counsel of Verizon.
Quickly after his nomination, attention turned to past comments Barr had made that were critical of the special counsel, and later to a memo he authored in June 2018 knocking the basis for an obstruction of justice inquiry into Trump.
Longtime experience at Justice Department
Barr was appointed to his first role at the Justice Department after helping the 1988 Bush campaign in its vice presidential selection process. As the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, he worked closely with the White House and produced a 10-page memo outlining a broad vision of the executive branch’s power to rebuff Congress’ oversight attempts.
He later served as the deputy attorney general, the department’s No. 2, before moving into interim leadership of the Justice Department when Bush’s first attorney general, Richard Thornburg, stepped down to campaign for an open Senate seat.
In his first days as acting attorney general, more than 100 Cuban inmates awaiting deportation from a federal prison in Talladega, Alabama, took nearly a dozen prison workers — Justice Department employees — hostage. Barr has said his decision-making leading to the successful FBI rescue operation that followed was the event that had the greatest impact and left him feeling most satisfied in his years at the Justice Department.
His judgment in the Talladega episode earned him the respect of Bush, who nominated Barr to fill out his term as the permanent attorney general, according to Stephen Colgate, a friend of Barr’s and a former assistant attorney general for administration.
“Having somebody there who understands it as an institution and has faced controversial decisions in the past I think is a real win for the Department of Justice,” Colgate said.
Barr took on lucrative private sector roles after Bush’s 1992 election defeat, serving as the top lawyer of GTE Corporation until the company merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon. He was the general counsel and executive vice president of the company until his retirement in 2008.
At the time of his nomination last year, Barr was with the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, and sat on the board of CNN’s former parent company Time Warner through much of last year.
Barr was seen as one of the more influential directors at Time Warner and played an important role around the company’s merger with AT&T, which was challenged last year by the Justice Department, according to a former senior Time Warner executive who requested anonymity to discuss the board’s work.
“He had wise counsel in the deliberations over the merger itself and then was particularly helpful in helping us navigate through the bureaucracy of the Department of Justice in the lead up to the decision to sue us,” the former executive said.
A federal judge has since approved AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.
Barr is known for maintaining humor through difficult situations, though. At a reception in the attorney general’s conference room after his swearing-in ceremony in 1991, Barr surprised guests with a turn on the bagpipe — a longtime talent of his.