In more staff changes, Trump taps attorney general, UN envoy

In more staff changes, Trump taps attorney general, UN envoy

Spokesperson Heather Nauert listens while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with reporters i
FILE PHOTO: Spokesperson Heather Nauert (L) listens while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with reporters in his plane while flying from Panama to Mexico October 18, 2018. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON: In another senior staff shake-up inside his often turbulent administration, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he has picked the two people he wants to be the next U.S. attorney general and the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

He said he will nominate William Barr, who was attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, to fill that top job again at the U.S. Justice Department.

Barr would replace Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has been in that position since Trump forced out Jeff Sessions as attorney general a month ago.

Trump also said he will put forward State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as ambassador to the United Nations. Nauert, a former host at Fox News Channel, would replace Nikki Haley, who announced in October that she would resign at the end of this year.

Both appointments would require U.S. Senate confirmation.

Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House, also said he would make a personnel announcement concerning the Pentagon on Saturday.

"It will have to do with the joint chiefs of staff, the succession," he told reporters outside the White House, suggesting he may name a new top U.S. military officer.

Separately, CNN reported on Friday that John Kelly is expected to resign in coming days as White House chief of staff, citing unnamed sources. Reuters has not independently confirmed the report.

The proposed changes come as the Republican president faces another difficult stretch.

Democrats are promising aggressive oversight of Trump's administration and business activities when they take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January following their gains in last month's elections.

Special Counsel Robert Muller is continuing to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, any collusion between Moscow and Trump's campaign and possible obstruction of justice. More details of the inquiry were set to emerge in court filings on Friday.

Barr, who was attorney general under Bush from 1991 to 1993 and has worked in the private sector since then, would oversee Mueller's probe if the Senate confirms him in the job again.

Barr is likely to face pressure at his confirmation hearings to show he would protect Mueller from political interference. Critics of Trump have long been concerned that the president wants to end the Mueller probe.

Trump, who has repeatedly denounced the investigation as a "witch hunt," denies any collusion with Russia or any obstruction of justice. Russia denies U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that it meddled in the 2016 election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor.

'RULE OF LAW'

Barr also may face scrutiny about past comments questioning the political affiliations of Mueller's team and supporting Trump's decision last year to fire FBI Director James Comey.

"I hope he will use the opportunity to unambiguously commit, should he be confirmed, to upholding the rule of law," Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said on Twitter.

READ: Trump picks former US Attorney General Barr to return to head Justice Department

Trump called Barr "a terrific man, a terrific person, a brilliant man," in remarks to reporters as he left for an out-of-town event.

"He was my first choice from Day One. Respected by Republicans and respected by Democrats. He will be nominated for United States Attorney General and hopefully that process will go very quickly," Trump said.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who is currently acting head of the Justice Department, has drawn criticism for past business ventures and critical comments about the Mueller investigation before he joined the department.

Trump mocked and belittled Sessions for more than a year, angry at Sessions' decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe because he had worked for Trump's election campaign.

'TRUMP'S TV SCREEN'

If she is confirmed to the U.N. ambassador post, Nauert would bring little diplomatic experience to a highly visible international role.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, praised Nauert as "one of the United States' strongest voices on the global stage." Democrats were less enthusiastic.

"She's clearly not qualified for this job, but these days it seems that the most important qualification is that you show up on Donald Trump's TV screen," Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said on CNN.

Other nations with veto power on the U.N. Security Council are all represented by ambassadors with decades of foreign policy experience.

Nauert would succeed Haley, a former South Carolina governor who also had little experience in world affairs before she took the job. Haley insisted that she be made a member of Trump's Cabinet and his National Security Council to bolster her power within the administration.

Bringing Nauert aboard in a sub-cabinet role could diminish the position, said Stephen Pomper, a former Obama administration official.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and David Morgan in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York Writing by Andy Sullivan Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)

Source: Reuters

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