Senate approves William Barr as Donald Trump's new attorney general

Our Foreign Staff
William Barr has been approved by the Senate to be Donald Trump's new law chief - Getty Images North America

The US Senate has approved President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr, putting the veteran Republican lawyer in charge of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of any ties between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The vote was 54-45, primarily on a party-line basis with most Republicans backing the 68-year-old and most Democrats opposed.

Democrats had expressed concern over Mr Barr's nomination out of concern he might not fully make public Mr Mueller's findings. But with the Senate controlled by the Republicans, Mr Barr's confirmation was always assured.

Previously attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George HW Bush, Mr Barr has won praise from lawmakers in both parties for his expertise and grasp of the workings of the Justice Department, which he will now head.

He is the third man in barely two years to occupy that post, replacing acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr Trump ousted Mr Sessions last November after criticising him repeatedly.

Mr Mueller is investigating meddling by Russia in the 2016 US presidential election and whether Moscow colluded with Mr Trump's campaign to try to tilt the election in Mr Trump's direction, as well as possible obstruction of justice.

Mr Trump denies any collusion. The Kremlin denies any meddling.

Before being nominated, Mr Barr wrote a 19-page legal memo, which he shared with Mr Trump's legal team and Justice Department officials. It called Mr Mueller's probe "fatally flawed."

Mr Barr has said he will not let himself be bullied by Mr Trump and will protect the integrity of Mr Mueller's investigation and make public as many of its findings as he can.

However, Mr Barr has not promised to release Mr Mueller's final report in its entirety. He has warned he may not be allowed to reveal the identities of people who escape prosecution. That stance troubles many Democrats, who say Mr Barr's expansive views of executive power might lead him to suppress parts of the report.

Despite Democrats' opposition, many are still anxious to have Mr Barr installed quickly so that he can replace Mr Whitaker, whose tenure has been fraught with controversy since the president installed him in November.

Critics have alleged Mr Whitaker's appointment was unlawful. Democrats fear Trump installed him to undermine Mr Mueller's probe because Mr Whitaker had criticised it when he was a conservative pundit.

Mr Barr is widely expected to back many of Mr Trump's tough immigration policies. He will also be under the microscope for how he implements a new law that eases prison sentences for non-violent criminals, after he advocated for the opposite, tough-on-crime approach for decades.