President Trump has repeatedly derided prosecutors investigating potential coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia as “angry Democrats,” pointing to their past political donations as proof of bias.
But William P. Barr, Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department and oversee the Russia investigation, would be by far the most prolific political donor to step into the country’s top law enforcement post in at least a quarter-century, according to a Washington Post analysis. Barr has donated more than $567,000 in the past two decades, nearly all to GOP candidates and groups, federal records show. His wife, Christine Barr, gave more than $220,000 over that time, records show.
Before he was nominated to be attorney general, Barr criticized past donations by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” Barr told The Post last year. “I would have liked [Mueller] to have more balance on this group.”
Barr did not respond to messages and emails.
A White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly said on the condition of anonymity that it is “absurd for critics to focus on financial support he provided to his party, which is consistent with what attorneys general have done previously.” The official also drew a distinction between contributions from political appointees and those from career prosecutors.
Previous attorneys general have donated to politicians before landing at the Justice Department, but none since Barr first served as attorney general, in the early 1990s, have given on the same scale. The closest, Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, gave about $37,000 to Democrats before he took office in 2009, records show. Holder was also a campaign bundler for Obama, raising at least $50,000. The Post analysis looked at contributions dating to the earliest available online records, in 1980.
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that works to limit money in politics, said in a statement that the nomination of Barr shows that Trump’s attacks “are hypocritical as well as bogus.”
“Under the Trump ‘bias standard,’ Barr must be ‘biased’ in favor of Republicans and therefore should not oversee the Justice Department investigation of Trump or any other Republican,” Wertheimer said.
Barr, 68, was attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He later became an in-house corporate attorney for telecommunications companies. For the past decade, as a lawyer with the firm Kirkland & Ellis, he has represented major corporations on government enforcement actions. Christine Barr has been a homemaker and librarian.
The Barrs, of McLean, Va., became a steady source of campaign donations for Republicans in Congress and beyond beginning in the late 1990s.
Barr contributed to the Republican presidential campaigns of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. He contributed $2,700 to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
The White House official noted that Barr’s contribution to Trump was paltry compared with the $55,000 Barr gave to a political action committee that supported Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s rivals during the primaries.
Barr and his wife also gave $27,600 in 2008 to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the House Judiciary Committee chairman who has led an investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia probe. Goodlatte issued a statement last week calling Barr “a great choice.” One of Barr’s daughters works as an aide for the Judiciary Committee.
Barr also donated more than $33,000 to Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia and Sen. Tom Cotton in Arkansas.
Barr’s independence is likely to come under question during his yet-to-be-scheduled confirmation hearing. Senators from both parties have said they want assurances that he will allow Mueller’s investigation to continue to its conclusion.
“That would be one of the issues that I certainly would want to make sure, and that he recognizes that not only that Mr. Mueller has to be allowed to complete his investigation unimpeded but also that prosecutorial decisions that are made by the department need to be independent,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said last week.
He also gave to the campaigns of four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vote on Barr’s nomination: Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who is retiring and would have a vote only if confirmation hearings are held before the new Congress is seated next month.
Democrats have already expressed skepticism.
“Mr. Barr must commit — at a minimum — under oath before the Senate to two important things,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “First, that the Special Counsel’s investigation will proceed unimpeded, and second, that the Special Counsel’s final report will be made available to Congress and the public immediately upon completion.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) ran in the 2018 midterm elections. Cotton was elected in 2014, and William P. Barr donated to Cotton for Senate this year.
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.