Donald Trump has announced he will nominate William Barr to be his new attorney general, a role which includes overseeing the investigation into Russian election meddling that continues to blight his presidency.
Mr Barr, 68, held the position for two years under George W Bush, the former US president, and has voiced views on the Russia probe and other key areas which chime with Mr Trump’s stances.
I am pleased to announce that I will be nominating The Honorable William P. Barr for the position of Attorney General of the United States. As the former AG for George H.W. Bush….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
….and one of the most highly respected lawyers and legal minds in the Country, he will be a great addition to our team. I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Mr Trump also announced that Heather Nauert, the former Fox News presenter and current State Department spokesman, will become the US ambassador to the United Nations [UN]. She will replace Nikki Haley.
The appointment, which was widely expected, has already come under fire from some critics given Ms Nauert has only two years of government experience.
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There was also speculation that John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, could soon be on his way out, though there has been no announcement yet.
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Mr Barr’s appointment will have a significant impact on the Russia probe being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed last May.
Mr Mueller is looking into whether Trump campaign figures conspired with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in his favour and whether the president himself obstructed justice since taking office.
Major moves proposed by Mr Mueller, such as bringing criminal indictments, will have to be approved by Mr Barr once he is in place.
What happens to Mr Mueller’s final report will also be up to the new attorney general, presuming he does not recuse himself from overseeing the investigation like his predecessor Jeff Sessions, who was fired last month.
Announcing the decision on Friday, Mr Trump said of Mr Barr: "He was my first choice from day one, respected by Republicans and respected by Democrats."
Mr Barr’s appointment will need to be confirmed by the US Senate, something made easier by his previous time in the role and the Republicans’ expanded majority at the midterm elections.
It is unclear how quickly that can be done. Time will need to be made in the Senate for hearings and a vote. In the meantime Matthew Whitaker, a critic of the Mueller investigation, will remain in place as acting attorney general.
Mr Barr is a Columbia University graduate who worked at the CIA while attending the George Washington University Law School. He is currently an attorney for the law firm Kirkland and Ellis,
His previous public comments on a range of hot-button issues will now be carefully scrutinised.
Mr Barr was critical of the fact that some lawyers hired to join Mr Mueller’s team had made financial contributions to Democrats in the past.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” he told The Washington Post in July 2017. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group.”
Mr Barr was also supportive of Mr Trump’s firing of James Comey, the former FBI director – a decision that is being scrutinised by Mr Mueller’s probe.
“Trump made the right call on Comey” was the headline on a piece written by Mr Barr for The Washington Post shortly after the dismissal in May 2017.
However he appears not to have repeatedly voiced hostility towards the Russia investigation and its legitimacy in the way Mr Whitaker did in interviews while a legal analysts.
Mr Trump also praised Ms Nauert during his comments to reporters on Friday. The US president called her “very talented, very smart [and] very quick”.
She has been the top spokesman at the State Department since the start of 2017, serving under both Rex Tillerson and his successor Mike Pompeo.
Her Fox News credentials – she spent more than a decade at the right-leaning broadcaster, compared to just two years of diplomatic experience – follow a trend in the Trump presidency.
John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, and Bill Shine, the White House director of communications, were both hired this year and had links with the channel. The former was a regular talking head and the latter was once a top executive.
Mr Trump said a third staff change would be announced at the annual Army versus Navy American football match which he is attending on Saturday. He said it was about succession at the Joint Chiefs of Staff – a group of uniformed leaders who advice the president.
Separately, Mr Kelly remains in post for now, but CNN reported that he is expected to resign soon and has talked little to Mr Trump in recent days. He was not travelling with the president on Friday.
Mr Kelly is credited with bringing order to the White House after a chaotic first six months, but his desire for structure and hierarchy is said to have increasingly grated on the president.
Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old chief of staff to Mike Pence, the US vice president, is the front-runner to replace Mr Kelly if he goes.