Trump Announces Two Nominations
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump is traveling to Missouri today. And on his way out of town, he stopped, as he often does, to talk to reporters before boarding Marine One. And, turned out, he had some pretty important announcements to make. He announced that he is nominating Heather Nauert as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and William Barr to be his attorney general.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A terrific man. A terrific person. A brilliant man. I did not know him for - until recently when I went through the process of looking at people, and he was my first choice, from day one.
GREENE: We have several members of NPR's White House team to talk to us this morning, beginning with White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who was there for the president's announcement. Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
GREENE: So why these announcements now?
KEITH: Well, one could say that these positions have been open for a while, and he needed to make these announcements and once he makes a decision, he can announce it. There is another possible thing. This is a very big news day on the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation front.
KEITH: And so far this morning, starting at 6:18 a.m., to give you a sense of what is on the president's mind, he has tweeted about that seven times since starting at 6:18 this morning. Just to say what's on the docket today, former FBI director James Comey is testifying on Capitol Hill behind closed doors, but a transcript will be released. Also there are document filings expected in the cases related to both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
GREENE: So you're suggesting - I mean, we don't know, obviously, but - that there's a chance that this was to kind of take control of the news cycle, which Donald Trump has shown that he's very adept at doing.
KEITH: He is very adept at taking control of the news cycle. And usually, I'm sort of skeptical of the distraction, distraction. But in this case, he walked out to the microphones, made these two announcements that had been sort of leaking out, but made these announcements, teased yet another announcement possibly coming tomorrow, and at the same time was sort of telegraphing what's on his mind with all of these tweets.
GREENE: You're officially less skeptical today than that in cases like this in the past.
KEITH: That would be correct.
GREENE: Stay with me, Tam. I want to turn to White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who's also here. Ayesha, can you talk us through the nominee to be attorney general, William Barr? Who is he?
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: So William Barr was attorney general for George H.W. Bush who, obviously, was laid to rest this week, but he was attorney general for him for about two years or so. And so he has a lot of experience. And he also has a lot of respect among Republican lawmakers and in Republican circles. He's kind of known as kind of, like, an experienced and maybe kind of old-school GOP. And so he has that going in his favor.
Something else that President Trump might have been interested in is that William Barr has made comments about the Mueller investigation, kind of raising concerns about maybe the political tilt of some of the members of the team. He's also said that he felt like President Trump had every right to fire Comey. But at the same time, Mueller actually did work under Barr when he was at the Justice Department.
GREENE: Well, you mentioned Comey, FBI Director James Comey - former FBI director. He's testifying on Capitol Hill today. I mean, as Tam mentioned, I mean, there are so many developments on the Russia front, but one thing we should say is if Bill Barr is indeed confirmed as attorney general, if the Mueller investigation is still going, he would be overseeing it. Right?
RASCOE: He would. And that is going to be a question that he's going to be asked when he's going through the confirmation process. Is he going to recuse himself and take himself - and not be over the special investigation? Now, that is...
GREENE: Which Jeff Sessions did, and Trump was furious about it.
RASCOE: And Trump was furious about it. So it's not clear whether Barr has given any assurances to the president that he will not recuse himself, but that is something that Democratic lawmakers are going to want to know, and they're going to push him on that.
GREENE: Tamara Keith, let me turn back to you for the other nomination the president said he's making, which is Heather Nauert to be at the United Nations as ambassador. She's a pretty familiar face if you watch television. Remind us of what she's been doing.
KEITH: She's an extremely familiar face if you are a fan of "Fox & Friends," which is the morning show on President Trump's favorite cable network, one of his favorite shows. She was the newsreader on "Fox & Friends" until she joined the Trump administration in the spring of 2017. Then she since then has been a spokesperson, the lead spokesperson for the State Department.
And once Rex Tillerson, the first secretary of state was fired - I think we can say he was fired - once he was fired, she took on a more prominent role and a higher-ranking position under Mike Pompeo as secretary of state. But before joining the administration, she really had no foreign policy experience and no diplomatic experience. All of that experience has been on the job as the spokesperson for the State Department.
GREENE: And so what do you think President Trump is thinking in terms of what she'll bring to this job?
KEITH: Well, in some ways, I think he sees the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. as a spokesperson for American values and as a spokesperson for the American view, sees it possibly less as a diplomatic position and more as a position that, you know, goes to the U.N. and delivers speeches about the U.S. position on foreign policy.
GREENE: Ayesha, Tam, thanks so much to you both. We really appreciate it.
KEITH: You're welcome.
RASCOE: Thank you.
GREENE: That is NPR's Ayesha Rascoe and NPR's Tamara Keith, both members of our White House team. And just to remind you about the news we're talking about, President Trump has announced two nominations he'll be making, Heather Nauert to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and William Barr to be attorney general of the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.