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examining his record
December 7, 2018

What kind of attorney general will William Barr be for President Trump?

That's the question on everyone's mind since Trump made the pick official Friday morning, and one need only look to Barr's first tenure as attorney general — under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 through 1993 — to get an idea.

Barr comes into the role knowing plenty about investigations like the one Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting. Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal was ongoing when Barr last served, and The Washington Post points out that Barr regularly considered firing him. Bob Woodward reported at the time that Barr wanted to dismiss Walsh for "misconduct," feeling that his decision to indict former President Ronald Reagan's defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, shortly before the presidential election was politically motivated. Barr himself admitted, "I've had an itchy finger."

Ultimately, Barr did not fire Walsh. But he did advise Bush to pardon six officials who had been indicted in the scandal, including Weinberger, writes the Post. Walsh criticized this decision and referred to the Christmas Eve pardons as "a sort of Saturday night massacre." One difference between the two situations, Slate points out, is that Walsh wasn't under Justice Department supervision like Mueller is, meaning this time around, Barr could be compelled to just let Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein handle things.

Whether he would take more drastic measures when push comes to shove, though, remains to be seen, and The New York Times reports that Trump in his hiring process has been concerned about whether his new attorney general pick would recuse himself from the Russia probe, apparently wanting someone who will take a more hands-on approach than former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Barr has offered some criticism of Mueller's Russia probe in the past, and the Times reports that some experts are concerned with his "expansive view of presidential power." Brendan Morrow

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