Barr to step down as attorney general

Attorney General William Barr will step down from his position in the coming days, leaving the Trump administration about a month before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

President Trump announced Barr’s decision on Twitter after a meeting with him at the White House, saying that the two had a “very good” relationship and praising Barr for doing an “outstanding job.” Trump had sharply criticized Barr in recent days, prompting talk that he could be fired.

Barr plans to leave the Justice Department on Dec. 23, according to his resignation letter.

“As discussed, I will spend the next week wrapping up a few remaining matters important to the administration and depart on December 23rd,” Barr wrote.

Trump said that Jeffrey Rosen, the current deputy attorney general, will take over Barr’s role atop the Justice Department and that Richard Donoghue, who over the summer moved to a role at main Justice from the Eastern District of New York, would be deputy attorney general. Biden, who was affirmed the winner of the presidential race by the Electoral College earlier Monday, will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Barr, who was confirmed as Trump’s second attorney general in February 2019, has been one of the president’s staunchest allies in the Cabinet. But significant cracks developed in their relationship in recent weeks.

Trump over the weekend lashed out at Barr over reports that he kept information about a federal investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, from public view before the election. Trump even shared a tweet that called on Barr to be fired if the reports were true.

“A big disappointment!” Trump wrote in response to the tweet on Saturday.

Barr also broke with Trump in spectacular fashion by telling The Associated Press in an interview two weeks ago that the Justice Department had not found evidence of widespread election fraud that would alter the results of the election. The statement represented a public contradiction of Trump’s wild fraud claims by one of his closest Cabinet members and quickly spurred speculation he could be fired or resign.

Trump may push the acting attorney general to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, something he reportedly urged Barr to do.

Trump tweeted news of Barr’s looming departure shortly after California reported its electoral votes, officially putting Joe Biden over the top in the certification process to affirm him as the next president. The Electoral College process dominated news coverage throughout the day, and Trump’s announcement may have been an effort to change headlines.

Barr’s letter, which ran just over one page, was filled with effusive praise of the president and his time in office. The attorney general lauded Trump’s accomplishments on the economy, in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus and in funding the military.

“I am greatly honored that you called on me to serve your administration and the American people once again as Attorney General,” Barr wrote. “I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people. Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless implacable resistance.”

“Few could have weathered these attacks, much less forged ahead with a positive program for the country,” Barr added.

The attorney general repeatedly drew scrutiny from Democrats and watchdog groups that argued he was too deferential to Trump and blurred the independence between the Justice Department and the White House.

The Justice Department stepped in to defend Trump in a defamation suit brought by a woman who alleged the president had sexually assaulted her; Barr was accused of issuing a favorable summary of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in 2019; he defended Trump’s use of executive power and was critical of impeachment proceedings last year; and he sided with Trump in taking an aggressive approach to nationwide protests against racial injustice earlier this year.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) hammered Barr in a statement, accusing him of misleading the public about Mueller’s report, having a “callous disregard for civil flights” and engaging in “rampant politicization” of the Justice Department. 

“William Barr was willing to do the President’s bidding on every front but one.  Barr refused to play along with President Trump’s nonsensical claims to have won the election.  He is now out as Attorney General one month early,” Nadler said.  “Whomever Joe Biden chooses as the new Attorney General will have a tremendous amount of work to do to repair the integrity of the Department of Justice—and I, for one, look forward to being a partner in that project.”

Trump in late 2018 nominated Barr to replace Jeff Sessions, whom the president forced out immediately following the 2018 midterm elections after disapproving of his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Barr’s departure follows a string of other firings and resignations in the administration after the election. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Christopher Krebs, the top U.S. cybersecurity official. Others at the Department of Homeland Security have resigned, and Trump’s communications director, Alyssa Farah, also recently left her position in the West Wing.

The announcement that Barr would step down appeared to catch Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally and the chair of the Judiciary Committee, off guard.

Asked if he had a reaction to Barr leaving, Graham initially replied to reporters: “I don’t think he’s leaving.” 

“Barr did an outstanding job as attorney general. I think he pushed the system to deal with abuse and clean up the mess that was at DOJ,” Graham then added. 

Updated at 8:08 p.m. Jordain Carney contributed

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Mark Esper Robert Mueller William Barr

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