WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump announced a pair of key appointments Friday, tapping William Barr as attorney general, a position he once held under President George H.W. Bush, and naming former Fox News host Heather Nauert as ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump announced both postings while departing the White House for a trip to Missouri. He called Barr “a terrific man” and “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
“He was my first choice,” the president told reporters gathered on the South Lawn of the White House this morning.
Barr must still be confirmed by the Senate before replacing Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, whose brief tenure leading the Justice Department has been roundly challenged since Trump appointed him to replace Jeff Sessions in November.
Like Whitaker, who openly questioned the authority of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Barr too has been outwardly critical of the probe.
In July 2017, after it was revealed that seven of 15 attorneys working on the Russia investigation had donated to Democratic political campaigns over the years, Barr aired his grievances in an interview for The Washington Post.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying strongly with a political party. I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group,” Barr said.
That same month in an opinion piece for the Post, Barr was critical of former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump had ousted two months earlier.
Regarding the FBI investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for use of a private email server, Barr wrote that Comey’s comments “crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department.”
Barr also told The New York Times last year he believed Clinton should be further investigated for her role in approving the 2010 U.S. purchase of uranium from Russia.
“To the extent [the Justice Department] is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” Barr said in November 2017.
And in June that year, Barr appeared critical of Mueller when he told reporters that “leaks by any investigation are deplorable and raise questions as to whether there is an agenda.”
Given Barr’s comments on the Russia probe, he will undoubtedly face a rigorous confirmation hearing in Congress after the lame duck session concludes.
As for the newly tapped U.N. ambassador, who has worked at the State Department since April, Trump called Nauert “very talented, very smart, very quick.
“I think she’s going to be respected by all,” he added.
Hired initially as a spokeswoman, Nauert became the highest-ranking woman and fourth highest-ranking official in the State Department following the March ouster of Secretary Rex Tillerson when she was promoted to acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Reports surfaced of internal conflict between Nauert and the former secretary, but her relationship with Tillerson’s successor appears to have remained largely positive.
Nauert has often accompanied Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on official agency travel abroad, including an October trip to Saudi Arabia where Pompeo investigated the disappearance and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
During the trip, Nauert came under fire for posting a photo of herself smiling as she stood in the Royal Court at Riyadh. The photo stirred a brief viral controversy on social media but a department spokesman, Brandon Palladino, issued a statement to Huffington Post at the time, dismissing concerns.
“Stop trying so hard to manufacture controversy,” Palladino said in October.
Before reportedly settling on Nauert for the U.N. gig, President Trump is said to have considered White House aide Dina Powell, ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell – also a favorite of national security adviser John Bolton – and John James, a former West Point graduate and Republican who ran for the Senate seat in Michigan against incumbent Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Nauert was hired by Fox after briefly working as a general news correspondent for ABC. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Though she came to the White House without any background in foreign policy or international relations, her role these past few months has included overseeing public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts.
She was at the head of the Global Engagement Center, which counteracts extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others, and she has worked with the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America and other government broadcast networks.
With limited diplomatic and foreign-policy experience under her belt, however, Nauert is expected to face tough questions when she goes before the Senate for a confirmation hearing.