US attorney general William Barr steps down from Trump administration

Barr’s future in doubt since contradicting US president’s claims about election

US president Donald Trump with attorney general William Barr at the White House. Speculation about Mr Barr’s future was rife from the moment he flatly contradicted the president’s continuing arguments that he is the rightful winner and the election was fraudulent. Photograph: Doug Mills/the New York Times

US president Donald Trump with attorney general William Barr at the White House. Speculation about Mr Barr’s future was rife from the moment he flatly contradicted the president’s continuing arguments that he is the rightful winner and the election was fraudulent. Photograph: Doug Mills/the New York Times

 

US attorney general William Barr has stepped down from the Trump administration despite long being seen as a loyalist to the president. He faced accusations throughout his tenure that he had turned the department of justice into an obedient servant of the White House.

Donald Trump tweeted on Monday: “Just had a very nice meeting with attorney general Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job. As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family. Deputy attorney general Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become acting attorney general.

“Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of deputy attorney general. Thank you to all.”

Mr Barr – whose fealty to the president had seemed almost bottomless – had surprised many observers by telling the Associated Press in an interview published on December 1st that he disputed the idea, promulgated by the president and his re-election campaign, that there had been widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

Mr Trump has attempted to undermine the victory of his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, by pointing to routine, small-scale issues in an election – questions about signatures, envelopes and postal marks – as evidence of widespread voter fraud across the nation that cost him the election.

Supposed fraud

Mr Trump and some of his allies have also endorsed more bizarre sources of supposed fraud, such as tying Mr Biden’s win to election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chavez” – the former Venezuelan president who died in 2013.

“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the department of homeland security and the department of justice have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Mr Barr said in the interview with AP.

He said some people were confusing the role of the federal criminal justice system and asking it to step in on allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits and reviewed by state or local officials, not the justice department.

Mr Barr added: “There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all, and, people don’t like something – they want the department of justice to come in and ‘investigate’.”

Infuriated Mr Trump

Those comments probably infuriated Mr Trump and his supporters as they have tried – and failed – to find any meaningful way, via the courts, requested recounts, or pressure on officials, of overturning his defeat by Mr Biden.

Speculation about Mr Barr’s future was rife from the moment his AP interview was published, as the most high-profile member of the administration flatly to contradict the president’s continuing arguments that he is the rightful winner and the election was fraudulent.

Mr Trump announced in December 2018 that he was nominating Mr Barr to become his next attorney general, replacing Jeff Sessions, whom the president had fired not long before.

He began the post as the Russia investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump 2016 election campaign and Russian operatives was approaching its denouement in early 2019 under the stewardship of the special counsel Robert Mueller and, at first, it was anticipated that Mr Barr would be an independent voice at the department of justice and take a non-partisan position on the investigation.

Barr’s loyalty

But in the most prominent early incident among many in which Mr Barr’s loyalty to the president seemed to critics to exceed his loyalty to the nation, Mr Barr called a press conference last April and offered a misleading preview of Mr Mueller’s report.

He omitted the report’s detailed description of potential obstruction of justice by Mr Trump and falsely claimed the White House had co-operated fully.

This set the tone for Mr Trump’s inaccurate trumpeting when the report itself came out, in restricted form, that he and his team had enjoyed “total exoneration” by Mr Mueller – a blatant misinterpretation. And Mr Barr’s protocol-smashing, partisan path continued from there, as he intervened in criminal cases brought against prominent individuals in Mr Trump’s circle, such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

He also initiated an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation itself, seen as a fundamental undermining of the work of Mr Mueller and his team, an effort that continues. – Guardian service