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Rand Paul says he has concerns about William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been a fierce opponent of the expansion of government surveillance powers under the Patriot Act, which he said the nominee for attorney general is “a big supporter of.” (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday he has concerns about William P. Barr, President Trump’s choice for attorney general, calling Barr’s views on domestic surveillance “very troubling.”

Trump confirmed Friday that he plans to nominate Barr, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and has more recently worked in the corporate world, as well as at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd made note of recent reports about Barr’s broad view of presidential power. “When I heard that, I thought, ‘Uh-oh. He may have trouble getting Rand Paul’s vote for confirmation,’ ” Todd said.

“Uh-oh is right,” Paul replied. “I’m concerned that he’s been a big supporter of the Patriot Act, which lowered the standard for spying on Americans. And he even went so far as to say, you know, the Patriot Act was pretty good, but we should go much further.”

Paul has been a longtime critic of the Patriot Act; in 2015, he spent nearly 11 hours on the Senate floor speaking against the reauthorization of the 2001 measure, which expanded the government’s surveillance powers.

Paul said that while he hasn’t made a decision on Barr, “I can tell you, the first things that I’ve learned about him being for more surveillance of Americans is very, very troubling.”

Other Republicans on Sunday were optimistic about Barr’s chances of being confirmed.

Asked by Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo about the likelihood that Barr will be confirmed as attorney general, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, “Unless there’s something really strange, 100 percent.”

“He’s been confirmed three times. He’s been the former attorney general for Bush 41, the deputy attorney general in charge of the criminal division. And each time, he was confirmed by voice vote,” Graham said on “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), who as Republican whip will be the Senate GOP’s chief vote-counter in the new Congress, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Barr’s confirmation “shouldn’t be all that difficult.”

“My guess is that, when it’s all said and done, when it comes to a vote in the full Senate, that he will have strong support,” Thune said.

Yahoo News reported Saturday that Trump last year offered Barr a job as his chief defense attorney in the probe being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Barr reportedly declined, but the news has prompted some lawmakers to demand answers from Barr and the White House. If Barr is confirmed as attorney general, his position will include oversight of the special counsel probe.

“I want to hear more about, number one, that allegation — what were the details, but also, from Mr. Barr himself,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said on “Meet the Press” when asked about the Yahoo report.

King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said that Barr’s confirmation hearings will be “very important” and that protecting the Mueller probe will be “a kind of litmus test” for any attorney general nominee.

“I’d be surprised if the Senate confirms an individual who doesn’t commit to protecting the integrity of special counsel Mueller,” he said.