WHITE HOUSE - A former U.S. attorney general known for supporting sweeping presidential powers is President Donald Trump's choice to again run the U.S. Department of Justice.
Trump said Friday that William Barr, who was attorney general during the administration of the late former President George H.W. Bush, is his selection, describing him as "a terrific man, a terrific person, a brilliant man."
The president told reporters at the White House that Barr, a 68-year-old conservative Republican and corporate lawyer, "was my first choice from day one. Respected by Republicans and respected by Democrats."
Later in the day in a speech to law enforcement personnel in Kansas City, Trump said that during Barr's previous tenure running the Justice Department, he "demonstrated unwavering adherence to the rule of law."
Barr would replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed by the president to lead the Justice Department last month after Trump fired Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. senator and one of Trump's earliest supporters in the 2016 election. But Trump had soured on Sessions, repeatedly criticizing him for recusing himself from the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which the Justice Department oversees.
Whitaker has been criticized for his past remarks about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, including suggesting it would be a "red line" for the special counsel to investigate Trump's finances.
Barr is "a continuation of this law and order presidency," Whitaker said while introducing Trump at the Kansas City event, adding that the former attorney general is "supremely qualified, highly respected at the Department of Justice and will continue to support the men and women in blue."
But Barr's previous comments about Mueller's teams also are receiving scrutiny.
He told The Washington Post last year he had concerns about political donations made by members of the special counsel's team.
"Prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party," said Barr, who served as attorney general between 1991 and 1993, when Mueller oversaw the Justice Department's criminal division.
Barr has worked as a corporate general counsel with telecommunications companies and is currently with the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a top global law firm.
He will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
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"Hopefully that process will go very quickly, and I think it will go very quickly," Trump told reporters Friday on the White House South Lawn.
The number two Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, who regards Barr as "a very good choice," predicts there will be enough votes from his fellow party members to secure confirmation, though he notes, "I think it is going to be challenging in any event."
Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a member of the Senate's judiciary committee, says Barr will face strict vetting.
"I will demand that Mr. Barr make a firm and specific commitment to protect the Mueller investigation, operate independently of the White House, and uphold the rule of law," Blumenthal said in a statement, noting "past comments suggesting Mr. Barr was more interested in currying favor with President Trump than objectively and thoughtfully analyzing law and facts."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that the Senate would carefully examine Barr's record and views, and that he would have to "commit under oath" to ensure the special counsel's investigation proceeds unimpeded and Mueller's final report will immediately be made available to Congress and the public.
Given the president's "demonstrated lack of regard for the rule of law and the independence of the American justice system," added Schumer, "his nominee for attorney general, William Barr, will have a steep hill to climb in order to be confirmed by the Senate."
Wayne Lee contributed to this report.