Two-Time Columbia Graduate William Barr Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General

Columbia News
February 14, 2019

William P. Barr (CC’71, GSAS’73) was confirmed as U.S. attorney general Thursday. He fills the vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned last November.

This is his second stint as the nation’s top law enforcement official. He held the job during the administration of George H.W. Bush, from 1991 to 1993, making him both the 77th and 85th attorney general. Thursday's vote in the U.S. Senate was 54-45.

Barr graduated from the College with a B.A. in political science, and an M.A. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He attended the George Washington University School of Law, graduating with the highest honors.

In his new position, Barr becomes the seventh Columbia graduate to hold the post of U.S. attorney general. The most recent alumnus was Eric H. Holder (CC’73, LAW’76) who served in the administration of Barack Obama (CC’83) from 2009 to 2015. Michael Mukasey (CC’63) was George W. Bush's attorney general from 2007 to 2009.

Barr has an extensive history in public service. Before serving as attorney general in the first Bush administration, he was a deputy attorney general (1990-1991) and assistant attorney in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel (1989-1990). He served as a law clerk to Judge Malcolm Wilkey in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and later was on the White House domestic policy staff under President Ronald Reagan (1982-1983.) He worked at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1973 to 1977.

Until recently, he was counsel at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm in Washington, D.C. He served as general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon Communications from 2000 to 2008.

Barr is also a second-generation Columbia graduate. His father, Donald Barr (CC’41, GSAS’51) taught courses in sociology and political science at the Engineering School and later joined its faculty. The elder Barr established a high school science honors program at Columbia whose aim was to spot budding scientists and provide them with challenging courses that would improve their chances to get into college.

He is not the first attorney general to serve under different presidents, but it has been 166 years since the last time this occurred. John Crittenden (1787-1863) was the 15th and 22nd attorney general, serving in the administrations of Millard Fillmore, John Tyler and William Henry Harrison.