WASHINGTON -- Fresh from one bruising confirmation battle, President Bush announced Wednesday he will nominate acting Attorney General William Barr to succeed Dick Thornburgh as head of the Justice Department.
Tapping a career government official in a move almost certain to defuse criticism on Capitol Hill, Bush hailed Barr as 'a man that I respect enormously.'
But unlike the brutal confirmation battle pitched over Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, the White House said it anticipates no obstacles to winning approval for Barr as the nation's 77th attorney general.
'Wedon't expect any problems,' said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
Bush's selection of Barr, who took over for Thornburgh on a temporary basis last summer when Thornburgh resigned to seek a Senate seat from Pennsylvania, also coincided with his deferral for the moment of any public criticism of the confirmation process that saw the nomination of Thomas nearly derailed by last-minute allegations of sexual harassment.
Though the president definitely 'had some ideas' and 'is thinking about' ways to reform the increasingly politicized process, Fitzwater said, 'I don't expect any comments right away.'
In declining to discuss the accusations lodged against Thomas by University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, Bush has promised repeatedly he soon would make his views known.
But in selecting the career official he worked with at the CIA and nominated in May 1990 to be deputy attorney general, Bush should smooth the way before the same Senate Judiciary Committee that weighed the Thomas nomination.
As if to drive that point home to legislators, the president said in his Rose Garden anouncement: 'I have chosen an individual who is a thorough professional, a defender of individual rights and a person absolutely committed to this fight against crime. And he's also been tested by fire.'
If confirmed, Barr would succeed Thornburgh, who is seeking the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa.
Another controversial nomination, that of Bush's deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates, to head the CIA, is set for a vote Friday in the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Fitzwater expressed the hope the divisiveness generated by those nominations would not spill over.
'Every nomination should be considered on its own merits,' he said.
Bush, who offered the job to Barr, 41, in the Oval Office Wednesday morning, waited for the tumultuous Thomas hearings to conclude before announcing the nomination.
It came as somewhat of a a surprise, in part because names that have floated in recent months for the post were more politscal in nature. But Fitzwater said while Bush considered others, Barr 'was the leading candidate' from the beginning, mainly because the president has been impressed with his advice while at Justice, as well as when both men worked at the CIA. Barr was a member of the CIA counsel's staff in 1976 when Bush was the agency's director.
Barr, who has served at the Justice Department for the past three years and been generally praised for a steady performance and conservative credentials, said he was grateful for the appointment.
'What makes it a particular honor is the opportunity to serve a president who is such a strong supporter of law enforcement,' he said.
And Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., ranking Republican on the Senate judiciary panel, promptly said he is pleased by the nomination, adding that he is 'confident his background, experience and knowledge of the Department of Justice will serve him well in this important position.'
Bush pointed to Barr's Aug. 29 order to FBI agents and prison guards to storm the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama and seize 121 Cuban prisoners who had held 11 hostages for 10 days. The hostages were freed in the early morning raid that resulted in only a few minor injuries.
At the same time, however, Barr could face fire for defending the government's decision in January to order FBI agents to interview more than 200 Arab-American business and community leaders in an effort to gather information about possible terrorism in the United States.
'These interviews are not meant to intimidate,' Barr said then in the face of widespread criticism. The FBI and the Justice Department said the interviews were as much to protect Arab-Americans against any backlash from the Persian Gulf War.
Before being tapped as Thornburgh's deputy, Barr served in the Justice Department from April 1989 to 1990 as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. Besides the stint at the CIA, he was a law clerk in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and served on the domestic policy staff at the White House in 1982.
As if to drive that point home to legislators, Bush said: 'I have chosen an individual who is a thorough professional, a defender of individual rights and a person absolutely committed to this fight against crime. And he's also been tested by fire.'
Barr, standing at Bush's side, said he was grateful for the appointment, which must be confirmed by the Senate.
'I am honored that you have selected me to serve in the position of attorney general. What makes it a particular honor is the opportunity to serve a president who is such a strong supporter of law enforcement,' he said.
Barr, who has served at the Justice Department for the past three years, added that 'I am proud to be associated with each and every one of (Justice Department employees) and if confirmed, proud to lead them.'
The announcement came as a surprise, in part because names that have floated in recent months for the post were more political in nature, including former California Gov. George Deukmejian, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and Bush's current trade representative Carla Hills.
But in selecting the career official he nominated in May 1990 to be deputy attorney general, Bush should smooth the way before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which narrowly approved Thomas's nomination to the high court after a bruising battle. Another controversial nomination, that of Bush's deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates, to head the Central Intelligence Agency is set for a vote Friday in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Before being tapped as Thornburgh's deputy, Barr served in the department from April 1989 to 1990 as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, a position known as 'the attorney general's lawyer.'
He received his law degree with high honors from George Washington University.
He also served a stint at the CIA, was a law clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals and served on the domestic policy staff at the White House in 1982.