The Slatest

Trump’s Attorney General Nominee Pushed for Iran-Contra Pardons. Will He Do the Same With Mueller’s Convictions?

A headshot of Barr, who is wearing a suit.
William Barr.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Dominion Energy.

Confirming rumors that have circulated this week, Donald Trump told reporters at the White House (and then announced on Twitter) Friday morning that he intends to nominate William Barr to become attorney general. Barr served in the same position under the late George H.W. Bush—and, as it happens, during that tenure, Barr recommended to Bush that he pardon six individuals involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, four of whom had already been convicted of lying to federal and congressional investigators about the secret illegal operation.

Here’s Barr describing his role in a 2001 interview:

I asked some of my staff to look into the indictment that was brought, and also some of the other people I felt had been unjustly treated and whether they felt that they would have been treated this way under standard Department guidelines. I don’t remember going through the pardon office, but I did ask some of the seasoned professionals around the Department about this, asked them to look into it. Based on those discussions, I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.

Trump, of course, has openly discussed the possibility of pardoning figures like Paul Manafort who have been convicted, in Trump’s view unjustly, of crimes related to Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. A possibly relevant distinction: The prosecutor who pursued the Iran-Contra cases, Lawrence Walsh, was an “independent counsel,” which means he was appointed by a judicial panel and was not subject to DOJ supervision. Mueller, though, was appointed directly by the Department of Justice and is supervised by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Barr, as a longtime member of the legal establishment (he’s currently in private practice at a firm with a major D.C. presence), might be inclined to defer to Mueller and Rosenstein’s prosecutorial decisions because their investigation was more by-the-books, in some sense, than Walsh’s.

On the other hand, Barr has already demonstrated a public tendency to indulge Trump’s dubious positions on politically sensitive legal issues. He wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post defending the president’s obstruction-y decision to fire James Comey from the FBI; he also told the New York Times he thought it would be appropriate for the DOJ to open a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton over the State Department’s minor role, while she was secretary of state, in approving the sale of a Canadian company with a stake in U.S. uranium mining to a Russian company.

So, we’ll see! Should be fun.