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Why Trump's choice for the new attorney general is so controversial

For opponents of the Trump administration, William Barr is arguably an even worse choice for attorney general than Jeff Sessions.
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

As recently as September, Donald Trump declared, "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad." The president wasn't being literal, of course, since Jeff Sessions was still in the AG's office, but Trump was disgusted with the Alabama Republican for failing to do his bidding.

The president has apparently found someone more to his liking.

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr for attorney general.... "He was my first choice from day one," Trump said of Barr, calling him a "highly respected lawyer" and "one of the most respected jurists in the country."If confirmed by the Senate, it would be Barr's second stint as head of the Justice Department. He served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under the late former President George H.W. Bush.

Barr won't be considered by the Senate until the new year, when the Republican majority will grow from 51 members to 53. Given this arithmetic, Barr, who was confirmed easily in 1991, has reason to be optimistic about his chances.

But if White House officials expect the confirmation process to unfold without incident, they're likely to be disappointed.

To be sure, Barr's public profile has been modest of late, though he does speak out from time to time. Just two weeks into the Trump presidency, for example, Barr wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post defending the president's decision to fire acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Three months later, he wrote another op-ed for the same newspaper, defending Trump's ouster of FBI Director James Comey.

All the while, Barr has been a critic of Hillary Clinton, explicitly calling for additional federal investigations into the former secretary of state as recently as late last year.

Is it any wonder the president likes this guy?

We also know Barr has an expansive view of executive powers, helped establish contemporary norms on mass incarceration, and during his previous tenure in the AG's office, pushed for blanket pardons for everyone in the Reagan administration caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal. (George H.W. Bush took the advice and made the pardons on Christmas Eve 1992, a month after losing his re-election bid, when he hoped the public wouldn't notice.)

Sasha Samberg-Champion, who worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division in the Obama era, had a compelling Twitter thread yesterday, explaining that Barr "is one of the few plausible candidates for AG who is, if anything, even worse than Sessions on criminal justice reform."

Expect lively confirmation hearings.