Just the Facts

Five Facts on William Barr

By Emma Petasis
January 15, 2019 | Blog

On Tuesday, William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general began his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here are five facts on William Barr.

Barr began his career working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Barr graduated from Columbia University in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in government then remained at the university to earn a master’s degree in government and Chinese studies, which he completed in 1973. Upon his graduation, Barr worked at the CIA as an analyst and assistant legislative counsel, studying law at night at George Washington University. In 1977, Barr completed his law degree, left the CIA, and began clerking for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Following his clerkship, Barr moved into private practice, joining the law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge as an associate in 1978.

In 1982, Barr left private practice to work in the Reagan White House.

While Barr spent only 18 months at the White House, serving as the deputy assistant director for Legal Policy in the Office of Policy Development, it marked his first formal foray into politics and laid the groundwork for future positions in subsequent administrations. While working for President Reagan, Barr’s primary responsibilities included fair housing, women’s equality issues, affirmative action, and desegregation in education, crime, and immigration. He worked closely on legislation such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1983 and the introduction of the Tuition Tax Credit Bill in 1982 and 1983. Barr returned to Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge in 1983 and became a partner in 1985.

In 1989, Barr returned to government, accepting a position in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel as an assistant attorney general.

In his position, Barr worked as a legal advisor for the president and executive agencies. He was a strong defender of presidential power and wrote opinions justifying high-profile government operations, including the U.S. invasion of Panama and the subsequent arrest of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Barr was quickly promoted to deputy attorney general in 1990 before being appointed acting attorney general in 1991. While serving as acting attorney general, Barr impressed President Bush with his handling of a hostage crisis at a federal prison in Talladega, Al., where more than 100 Cuban inmates awaiting deportation revolted, taking nine hostages. Barr, in his capacity as acting attorney general,successfully directed the rescue of the hostages without any casualties, bolstering his case for retaining the position on a fulltime basis.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Barr to be the 77th attorney general of the United States.

On November 20, 1991, Barr was confirmed with the unanimous approval of the United States Senate. According to a 1992 Los Angeles Times article, Barr set out to transform the Department of Justice into an “agenda-setting agency from a reactive institution,” which included initiatives to tackle violent crime, gangs, and immigration reform. While serving as the attorney general he oversaw Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who at the time was leading the department’s criminal division.

In 1993, Barr left his post as attorney general and returned to the private sector.

Immediately following his tenure as attorney general, Barr joined General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE), where he worked until the company merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon in 2000. Following the merger, Barr led the legal, regulatory, and government affairs activities at Verizon until 2008. In the decade since, he has had two stints at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, the first in 2009 and then again from 2017 until the present. In addition, he has served as a board member of Time Warner Corporation, where he was heavily involved with the company’s high-profile merger with AT&T, which is currently being contested by the Justice Department.

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