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Barr Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General : Senate: No dissent is heard in a voice vote. The 41-year-old conservative succeeds Thornburgh, who resigned the Cabinet post.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

William P. Barr, who turned a night law school education into a meteoric rise through the CIA, the White House and the Justice Department, won Senate confirmation by voice vote Wednesday night as the nation’s 77th attorney general.

No audible dissent could be heard as the Senate followed 10 minutes of discussion by making Barr, 41, among the youngest persons in the modern era to serve as the nation’s chief lawyer. He will succeed Dick Thornburgh, who resigned last summer to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate from Pennsylvania.

Although he is a staunch conservative, liberal Democrats praised him for recognizing the Senate’s responsibility as a coequal branch of government. Even Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), often a point-man for Senate conservatives, predicted that Barr would be “a less partisan attorney general than some we have seen over the last 15 to 20 years.”

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Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved Barr’s nomination last week by a 14-0 vote, said that the nominee showed “commitment to the public interest above all else.”

After a five-year period during which attorneys general appointed by Republican presidents clashed often with Democratic-controlled Congresses, Barr’s two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing saw Democrats heap praise on him for his “candor” and “forthrightness.”

At those hearings, Barr who has served as acting attorney general since last August and as deputy attorney general for a year and a half, responded to criticism and critical questions by giving detailed explanations of Justice Department actions and by promising to look into some matters raised by senators.

Biden noted that Barr had acted consistently to protect and broaden the power of the President. But, he said, when it came to deciding as the attorney general’s chief legal adviser whether the constitution included an inherent line item veto--a power that would strengthen the President’s hand--Barr could find no such authority.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) pointed to Barr’s “courageous and clear-headed” decision to order in the FBI’s hostage rescue team to break up a tense federal prison hostage situation at Talladega, Ala., last summer as typifying his leadership. That decision, which was put into effect without loss of life, was said by Administration sources to be crucial in convincing President Bush to pick Barr over better known political figures for the attorney general’s post.

These sources said that Bush was particularly pleased over Barr’s refusing to “grandstand” over that accomplishment--a style that he continued after being nominated when he closed to the press a Justice Department ceremony honoring those who carried out the Talladega operation.

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In answering written questions asked by senators after his hearings were completed, Barr disclosed that the Administration would seek some sweeping changes in the independent counsel statute when it comes up for renewal next year.

These, he indicated, would include setting limits on the budget of outside prosecutors and requiring them to be bound by Justice Department policies and practices.

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