Washington — Attorney General William Barr informed President Trump on Monday that he’s leaving the administration, and the president tweeted a copy of Barr’s resignation letter, which stated his last day would be December 23. Mr. Trump said Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen would become acting attorney general.
“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,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Sources from the White House and the Justice Department insisted Barr was not forced out and Mr. Trump did not ask for Barr’s resignation.
In his resignation letter, Barr said he was “greatly honored” to have served in the Trump administration. Barr included some of what he considered highlights of his time at the helm of the Department of Justice, including efforts to combat violent crime and drug cartels in Mexico, but he did not directly mention the election or the Mueller report, two of the most controversial events of his tenure.
The two-time Attorney General did address the Russia investigation, saying Mr. Trump’s political opponents attempted to undermine his presidency in what he called a “partisan onslaught.”
“No tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds,” Barr said. “The nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust, your administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.”
Barr was received as a hopeful pick after Mr. Trump publicly fired his predecessor, Jeff Sessions. But Barr’s tenure faced scrutiny for his broad views of executive power and his support of the president from defending the use of force on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Plaza in June, to resuming the use of federal capital punishment.
Barr has long been considered a defender of Mr. Trump, with congressional Democrats claiming he was selected for the role to serve as the president’s protector and do his personal bidding. In the course of his 21-month tenure leading the law enforcement agency, the Justice Department has rankled Democrats and even its own federal prosecutors with its action in cases involving Mr. Trump’s close aides.
But the relationship soured in the weeks following the presidential election after Barr told The Associated Press that federal investigators had not found evidence of the widespread manipulation of votes that Mr. Trump has alleged.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP on December 1.
Mr. Trump was also unhappy with Barr’s role in not disclosing a federal investigation into Hunter Biden. Last week, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team revealed the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware was investigating Mr. Biden’s son Hunter’s “tax affairs.” The investigation had begun in 2018, but two sources told CBS News that during the election season the investigation went quiet to avoid “overt” steps that could affect the presidential election.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that Barr took steps to prevent the investigation from becoming public during the campaign. The president took to Twitter on Saturday to express his disappointment saying, “Why didn’t Bill Barr reveal the truth to the public, before the Election, about Hunter Biden. Joe was lying on the debate stage that nothing was wrong, or going on – Press confirmed. Big disadvantage for Republicans at the polls!”
Senator Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, said Monday he was “surprised” by Barr’s departure. Graham said he didn’t believe Barr was “disloyal” to Mr. Trump.
“I think he did an incredibly good job trying to repair damage at the Department of Justice, trying to be fair, faithful to the law,” Graham said. “I think he’s got a lot to be proud of.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, criticized the outgoing attorney general for acting in numerous instances on Mr. Trump’s behalf.
“From misleading the American public about the Mueller report to his dangerous efforts to overturn COVID safety measures, from his callous disregard for civil rights to his rampant politicization of the Justice Department, William Barr was willing to do the president’s bidding on every front but one,” Nadler said in a statement. “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.”
In May, the Justice Department moved to drop its criminal case against Michael Flynn, the former president’s national security adviser, despite his twice pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Mr. Trump pardoned Flynn last month after the judge presiding over the case declined to immediately dismiss it at the Justice Department’s request.
The top ranks of the Justice Department also intervened in a separate case involving Roger Stone, Mr. Trump’s longtime informal adviser who was found guilty on seven charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.
Just before Stone was set to be sentenced in February, the four federal prosecutors involved in his case abruptly withdrew from it after senior Justice Department officials overruled their initial recommendation that Stone receive seven to nine years in prison. One of the prosecutors who stepped down from Stone’s case, Aaron Zelinsky, told the House Judiciary Committee in June the department intervened because of Stone’s relationship with the president and called the move “unprecedented.”
Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, but Mr. Trump commuted his sentence in July, days before he was set to report to prison.
Barr has also hand-picked U.S. attorneys to further examine the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. The probe, which also looked into ties between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, has long been a target of Mr. Trump’s, as he calls it a “hoax” that was perpetrated by FBI and Justice Department officials to undermine his presidency.
Barr announced December 1 that he appointed John Durham, a U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to serve as Special Counsel to further investigate the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, as well as Special Counsel Rober Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Durham was originally tapped by Barr in May 2019 to examine the origins of the Russia probe and those conclusions were originally anticipated to be released by the summer of 2020. But due to the coronavirus pandemic and “additional information” Durham discovered, that deadline was not practicable.
The order from Barr formally appointing Durham was signed on October 19, over a month before Congress was informed.
“In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a Special Counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election,” Barr wrote in his letter to Congress, adding that he is providing the notice over a month later because, “it was in the public interest to toll notification given the proximity to the presidential election.”
Appointing Durham as special counsel shields him from getting potentially disbanded by the incoming Biden administration, and firing him in that capacity could only be done by the Attorney General for specific violations.
He also selected then-U.S. Attorney John Bash in May to review episodes of “unmasking” by Obama administration officials before and after the 2016 presidential election. Bash, however, did not find any substantive wrongdoing, the Washington Post reported in October.