Atty. Gen.-designate William P. Barr, praised by Democrats for "refreshing" candor and honesty, won unanimous approval Friday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is now likely to be confirmed by the full Senate before its Thanksgiving recess.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee chairman, hailed Barr as "a throwback to the days when we actually had attorneys general who would talk to you."
Barr would succeed former Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh who, like his predecessor Edwin Meese III, had often-stormy and strained relations with the Judiciary Committee. The panel's eight Democrats joined six Republicans in recommending that Barr be confirmed.
During two days of testimony this week, Barr detailed his opposition to the Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion, said he had ordered a review of the controversial Bank of Credit & Commerce International investigation and named a retired federal judge to investigate long-festering allegations that department officials had conspired to force a computer software firm into bankruptcy.
Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said he had found Barr's responses to the abortion question to be "straightforward and honest, and for that I commend him."
Barr said he felt the decision on whether to legalize abortion should be made by state legislatures. "It is frankly refreshing to have a nominee admit what we all know--that this Administration opposes a woman's right to choose," Metzenbaum said.
Barr's smooth sailing before the committee was momentarily threatened Friday by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who, an aide said, had information from a confidential source that the indictment in the Pan American Flight 103 bombing might have been delayed and timed to support Barr's confirmation.
But after a 10-minute telephone conversation with Barr, DeConcini joined other Democrats in supporting the nominee.
The timing of the indictment of two Libyans for blowing up the plane on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 270 people, "had nothing to do with Mr. Barr's confirmation hearings," said Assistant Atty. Gen. Robert S. Mueller III, who is overseeing the case.
"If you were going to politically time it, presumably you would do it before he has to appear on the (Capitol) Hill," Mueller told reporters. The indictment was returned under seal Wednesday, the last day of Barr's testimony, and announced Thursday.
In praising Barr, the Democrats made it clear that they disagree with many of his views.
Biden said he had "kidded" the nominee not to come back before the panel as a Supreme Court nominee, drawing a distinction between approving a President's choice for his Cabinet and a lifetime appointment to the high court.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was "concerned that in a presidential election year the office of attorney general could become too closely aligned with the White House. It's easy to imagine the President or the Republican National Committee looking to the Justice Department for help in pushing the party's conservative social agenda."
But Leahy said he believes that Barr, as attorney general, will be "an independent voice for all Americans--not just the President."