Administration

Trump remarks put pressure on Barr

President Trump on Tuesday called on Attorney General William Barr to investigate the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, putting pressure on the Justice Department to look into his political opponent just two weeks before Election Day.

“We have got to get the attorney general to act. He’s got to act and he’s got to act fast,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends,” citing a controversial New York Post report about Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

Trump called on Barr to “appoint somebody” to handle the matter, backing a group of House Republicans who have asked Barr to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the details in the Post story. 

“This is major corruption and this has to be known about before the election,” Trump said.

Trump’s latest remarks ups the pressure on Barr, who faces a difficult choice on whether to launch an investigation just two weeks before Election Day.

“This puts DOJ and the attorney general in an almost impossible situation. Bill Barr has really got two options here,” Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, said of Trump’s comments Tuesday. “He can accede to the president’s demands, which would make him a disgraceful political hack, or he can stand up for the Justice Department or resign.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not return a request for comment Tuesday following Trump’s remarks. A Biden campaign spokesman also did not return a request for comment. 

Trump’s comments Tuesday mark the latest test of Barr’s independence, something Democrats and other critics have questioned throughout his tenure as attorney general. 

The president weighed in frequently on the case of former associate Roger Stone, whose sentence he ultimately commuted, prompting a public rebuke from Barr even as the attorney general intervened in the case to adjust down the sentencing recommendation.

Trump has more recently urged Barr to prosecute Obama administration officials, including the former president, suggesting his legacy will be tarnished if he does not move forward with the case.

Trump and his campaign have seized on the Post report, which alleged that Hunter Biden helped broker a meeting between an executive at the Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings and his father when Joe Biden was vice president. The story has been disputed by Joe Biden’s campaign, which has said that his official schedule from the time did not list any such meeting. The story has been a central focus of conservative media in recent days, with Fox News granting considerable coverage to its allegations despite burgeoning questions about its validity. 

The FBI is also said to be investigating whether the article, which relied on emails purportedly found on a laptop left at a computer repair shop in Delaware, is tied to a Russian intelligence operation. Experts who spoke with The Hill said the laptop was more likely than not part of a disinformation plot but that it would take time for officials to investigate it.

The president at a rally on Monday lamented that Barr had refrained from investigating Joe Biden but suggested he was doing so because the attorney general is a “very nice man and a very fair man.”

Prior to that rally, Trump had called on the FBI to investigate Hunter Biden after being asked if the agency should be probing the matter.

“Certainly, the FBI should be investigating it because, on its face, he’s guilty as can be,” Trump told reporters.

Trump’s remarks represent an escalation of his rhetoric over the past week. He described the Bidens as an “organized crime family” following the publication of the Post report. 

The president on Monday told campaign staffers that Joe Biden “should be in jail” and later called a reporter a “criminal” for failing to more thoroughly investigate allegations against the former vice president.

Trump has struggled to mount a concise and effective attack against Biden as the campaign season draws to a close. He has questioned Biden’s mental acuity, painted him as a failed Washington insider and asserted that he would implement a radical agenda that would cause the United States to resemble a socialist country. 

He has frequently rehashed the same tactics from his 2016 campaign against that cycle’s Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, egging on supporters as they chant “lock him up” and portraying Biden as a corrupt career politician. Trump has repeatedly accused the Bidens of corruption, despite a Republican-led probe completed earlier this year finding no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president. 

By pushing Barr to open an investigation, the president may be hoping for a redux of 2016 when a last-minute decision by then-FBI Director James Comey to briefly reopen the probe into Clinton’s email server contributed to concerns among voters.

But the contours of the 2020 race are fundamentally different. The campaign has been dominated by an ongoing pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, and Biden’s favorability ratings remain higher than Clinton’s four years ago. 

Polls continued to show Biden leading Trump nationally and in key battlegrounds. Trump and Biden will meet Thursday for the final presidential debate, during which the president is likely to try to raise the story about Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop. 

“Hunter Biden does not help put food on the table. Hunter Biden does not help anyone get a job. Hunter Biden does not provide health care or solve COVID,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz said Tuesday, criticizing Trump’s strategy. “And Donald Trump spends all of his time focused on that and nobody cares.”

Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former communications director for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, suggested Trump would be better served finding more salient ways to make an argument against a Biden presidency. 

“What Trump needs to talk about is Biden’s flaws and I think there are ways to do that without peddling in conspiracy theories,” Conant said. 

The Post obtained the information from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. Giuliani had contacts with a Ukrainian lawmaker who now has been designated by the Treasury Department as a Russian agent.

Clinton Watts, a disinformation expert and research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said in an interview last week that there was a “high” likelihood that the information is part of a disinformation operation.

“I think we won’t know before the election, and that’s my worry,” Watts said of the reported FBI investigation into the source of the laptop. “I don’t know that you could ever know where this came from, potentially.”

Trump has long pushed for investigations of his political opponents. He was impeached by the House of Representatives last year after asking Ukraine’s new president to investigate the Bidens and a baseless claim that the elder Biden pressured for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to his son’s benefit.

Recently, Trump has expressed frustration with Barr for not bringing charges against Obama-era officials for their actions in the Russia investigation. Trump has claimed that former President Obama and Joe Biden engaged in criminal wrongdoing in connection with the FBI’s investigation of his 2016 campaign, despite Barr saying earlier this year U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe would not result in investigations of Obama or Biden.

“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction,” Trump said on Fox Business earlier this month. “This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama, and it includes Biden. These are people that spied on my campaign.”

 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Hunter Biden James Comey Joe Biden John Durham Marco Rubio presidential election Roger Stone Rudy Giuliani Russia William Barr

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