WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed William Barr to be the next attorney general, as his nomination survived Democratic opposition related to concerns over his independence from the Trump White House.
He was confirmed by a vote of 54-45. Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for the nomination. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the line Republican vote against.
A White House spokeswoman said that Barr would be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts in an Oval Office ceremony on Thursday afternoon.
Barr will succeed Jeff Sessions, who resigned in November at the urging of President Donald Trump. Since then, Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, has served as acting attorney general.
Democrats’ opposition to Barr’s confirmation centered on his previous comments critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Barr’s refusal to commit to publicly release any report that Mueller write about his findings.
Barr served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, and later worked as general counsel for GTE Corp., which later become Verizon after its merger with Bell Atlantic. He also served on the board of Time Warner.
At his confirmation hearing, he said he would take a look at the antitrust implications of the growth of major tech platforms.
“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of antitrust enforcers,” he said. The Federal Trade Commission has been conducting a series of hearings that have delved into questions of whether current antitrust law is sufficient to ensure that tech giants are not engaging in anticompetitive behavior.
He also said he would recuse himself from the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and Time Warner over their proposed merger. A federal appellate court has yet to issue a decision on the government’s appeal of a ruling in favor of the two companies.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had raised questions about Barr’s previous comments about Mueller’s investigation. He wrote a 19-page memo in June, 2017, that criticized Mueller’s apparent pursuit of an obstruction of justice investigation. Barr, however, said the memo was focused on a specific legal theory.
Barr told lawmakers that “on my watch,” Mueller “will be allowed to finish his work.”
But he declined to commit to making public a Mueller report on the investigation.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Barr’s confirmation “a major victory for justice and the rule of law in America.”