Trump has plenty of reasons to be thankful to William Barr

Attorney general’s departure no surprise as attention turns to Joe Biden’s AG pick

US President Elect Joe Biden called on Americans to "turn the page" on the Trump era in a prime-time speech, hours after prevailing over the Republican in the Electoral College vote that officially determines the U.S. presidency.

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As someone with a knack for controlling the media narrative, Donald Trump’s carefully timed announcement of William Barr’s departure on Monday night did not go unnoticed. The outgoing president tweeted news of his attorney general’s departure just as the electoral college declared victory for Joe Biden.  

Though the development did divert some of the media attention away from Biden’s win, in reality Barr’s exit was not entirely unexpected. Relations between the two men had reportedly been strained since Barr said in an interview that the justice department had not found evidence of fraud sufficient to overturn the result of the presidential election.

Further, Trump was annoyed that Barr did not inform him or the public about the federal investigation into Biden’s son Hunter’s tax affairs before the presidential election. Nonetheless, Barr’s recent disagreements with the president should not mask the fact that the attorney general was one of Trump’s most loyal lieutenants.

When Barr was nominated by Trump to replace his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, two years ago, many expected him to be a stabilising influence on the erratic president. A highly experienced lawyer, he had previously served as attorney general under George W Bush.

Instead Barr moved in lock-step with the president for most of his tenure. In a major win for Trump, he controversially decided to publish a summary document of the Mueller report before the full report itself, a move that angered special counsel Robert Mueller, who believed the summary was misleading in its suggestion that the inquiry had cleared Trump of obstruction of justice.

Church walk

Barr’s decision this year to clear Lafayette Square just outside the White House to facilitate Trump’s walk to St John’s Church during the George Floyd protests was also widely condemned.

Barr’s belief in the expansive powers of the executive branch was set out in his resignation letter to Trump, which the president tweeted on Monday night. So too was his personal allegiance to the president.

“I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people,” he wrote. “Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance.”

Describing the “partisan onslaught” sustained by the president, he said the nadir was the “frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia”.

Cryptically, Barr also referred to the justice department’s review of voter fraud allegations, suggesting that an investigation into election practices is still ongoing.

Officials have insisted that Barr was not fired, but instead resigned. Announcing the parting of ways, Trump struck a positive note. “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!” he tweeted, and indeed Trump can be thankful to Barr for siding with him on most of the legal issues thrown up during his presidency. Barr will be replaced by his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen.

Son’s taxes

With only a few weeks left in the Trump administration, however, the real question will be whom Joe Biden decides to appoint to one of the most important jobs in government. An announcement on Biden’s choice for AG is expected imminently.

The person chosen will have the challenge of overseeing the federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes, with some Republicans even calling for a special counsel to be appointed.

In addition to former senator Doug Jones and judge Merrick Garland, New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s name has been added to the mix in recent days. For Biden, the choice of attorney general will be one of the most consequential personnel decisions he will make.

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