WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he will nominate William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, as his next attorney general. Trump is also nominating State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
If confirmed by the Senate, Barr would succeed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced out by Trump in November. Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, is currently serving as acting attorney general.
Nauert is a former Fox News Channel reporter who had little foreign policy experience before becoming State Department spokeswoman. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be a leading administration voice on Trump's foreign policy.
Nauert is to replace Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who announced in October that she would step down as ambassador at the end of this year.
Trump made the announcement to reporters Friday as he departed the White House for a trip to Kansas City.
Attorney general nominee William Barr
Trump called Barr "a terrific man" and "one of the most respected jurists in the country."
"I think he will serve with great distinction," Trump said.
Trump's fury at former Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation — which helped set in motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller — created deep tensions between Trump and his Justice Department. He sometimes puts the word "Justice" in quotes when referring to the department in tweets and has railed against its leaders for failing to investigate his 2016 campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, as extensively as he would like.
Democrats will presumably seek reassurances during confirmation proceedings that Barr, who as attorney general would be in a position to oversee Mueller's investigation, would not do anything to interfere with the probe.
The investigation appears to be showing signs of entering its final stages, prompting a flurry of tweets from the president Thursday and Friday. But an attorney general opposed to the investigation could theoretically move to cut funding or block certain investigative steps.
Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993, serving in the Justice Department at the same Mueller oversaw the department's criminal division. Barr later worked as a corporate general counsel and is currently of counsel at a prominent international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
Still, while in private practice, Barr has occasionally weighed in on hot-button investigative matters in ways that could prompt concerns among Democrats.
He told The New York Times in November 2017, in a story about Sessions directing his prosecutors to look into actions related Clinton, that "there is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation" — though Barr also said one should not be launched just because a president wants it.
He also said there was more reason to investigate a uranium deal approved while Clinton was secretary of state in the Obama administration than potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
"To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility," Barr told the newspaper.
He also wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in May 2017 defending Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey, one of the actions Mueller has been examining for possible obstruction of justice.
He was quoted two months later in a Post story expressing concern that members of Mueller's team had given contributions to Democratic candidates.
"In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party," Barr said. "I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group."
Barr had been on a White House short list of contenders for several weeks, said a person with knowledge of internal discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly. But some inside the White House were concerned that Barr was too aligned with establishment GOP forces.
Trump said Friday Barr had been his "first choice from Day One."
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations nominee Heather Nauert
"Heather Nauert will be nominated," Trump said Friday before departing the White House on Marine One for an event in Kansas City. "She's very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she's going to be respected by all."
Trump told reporters last month that Nauert was "excellent," adding, "She's been a supporter for a long time."
Plucked from Fox by the White House to serve as State Department spokeswoman, Nauert catapulted into the upper echelons of the agency's hierarchy when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired in March and replaced with Mike Pompeo. Nauert was then appointed acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and was for a time the highest-ranking woman and fourth highest-ranking official in the building.
Nauert, who did not have a good relationship with Tillerson and had considered leaving the department, told associates at the time she was taken aback by the promotion offer and recommended a colleague for the job. But when White House officials told her they wanted her, she accepted.
That role gave her responsibilities far beyond the news conferences she held in the State Department briefing room. She oversaw public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts. She was in charge of the Global Engagement Center that fights extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others, and she has a seat on the U.S. Agency for Global Media that oversees government broadcast networks such as Voice of America.
Just 18 months ago, she wasn't even in government.
Nauert was a breaking news anchor on Trump's favorite television show, "Fox & Friends," when she was tapped to be the face and voice of the administration's foreign policy. With a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she had moved to Fox from ABC News, where she was a general assignment reporter. She hadn't specialized in foreign policy or international relations.
Shut out from the top by Tillerson and his inner circle, Nauert developed relationships with career diplomats. Barred from traveling with Tillerson, she embarked on her own overseas trips, visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar last year to see the plight of Rohingya Muslims, and then Israel after a planned stop in Syria was scrapped. All the while, she stayed in the good graces of the White House, even as Tillerson was increasingly on the outs.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Nauert in March as "a team player" and "a strong asset for the administration."