By Mark Hosenball, Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – William Barr, nominated by President Donald Trump to become U.S. attorney general, plans to recuse himself from a major antitrust case, according to people who spoke with him on Thursday, as he navigates possible conflicts of interest presented by about $37 million (29 million pounds) in assets he amassed as a private-sector lawyer.
Barr is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week for two days of confirmation hearings. Ahead of that, he has submitted financial disclosure forms, as required. Some of the forms, seen by Reuters, describe sizeable investments in stocks, bonds and real estate.
Among his holdings are $1.2 million worth of shares in telecommunications and media company AT&T Inc. He served on the board of Time Warner, which was acquired by AT&T last year, from 2009 until 2018.
The Justice Department, which Barr would lead as attorney general, fought and lost a court battle to block the $85 billion deal and has appealed the decision.
Barr told Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar he would recuse himself from that effort if he were confirmed, Klobuchar said.
“He told me he was going to recuse himself from the Time Warner-AT&T appeal because he was involved in that, the Time Warner side,” Klobuchar told reporters after meeting with Barr.
She added that she plans to review his financial disclosures more carefully over the weekend.
A Justice Department official, familiar with Barr’s confirmation preparation, confirmed that he plans to recuse himself from the matter.
Barr is set to face tough questioning in the confirmation hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday from Democrats who have raised concerns about his past criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Senators who will vet his nomination will likely closely examine the disclosures, which trickled in later than usual on Thursday due to a partial government shutdown which has furloughed many of the government’s ethics attorneys.
According to the documents, Barr owns about $16 million worth of stocks and bonds, as well as another $8 million in private investments and $4.2 million in real estate.
As of Dec. 14, he held $2.8 million worth of Dominion Energy Inc stock, his largest holding. Barr served on Dominion’s board of directors, as well.
Under federal ethics rules, Barr will be required to divest certain holdings if they conflict with particular matters he is working on at the Justice Department.
Presidential nominees also must sign an ethics pledge that spells out how potential conflicts will be managed.
Other stocks in his portfolio include tobacco company Altria Group Inc and drugmakers Merck & Co Inc and Pfizer Inc.
Reuters could not immediately determine which assets, if any, he may need to divest, but the same Justice Department official said government ethics lawyers are working on a divestment plan.
Barr will also be required to disclose some details about which clients he or his law firm have recently represented in order to avoid potential conflicts.
In his questionnaire to the Senate, he disclosed he represented construction machinery and equipment maker Caterpillar Inc in 2017 in connection with a Justice Department grand jury probe and recently was retained to provide regulatory advice for the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management [CBS.UL].
Other possible conflict questions that could come up include the fact that his daughter and both of his sons-in-law currently work at the Justice Department.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Mark Hosenball and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Rigby)