William Barr steps down as attorney general

Rep. Ted Lieu: 'History will not be kind to Bill Barr'

Attorney General William Barr testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing July 28. It was his first congressional testimony in more than a year.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/POOL)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing July 28. It was his first congressional testimony in more than a year. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/POOL)
Posted December 14, 2020 at 6:35pm

President Donald Trump on Monday said Attorney General William Barr will step down after nearly two years as the nation’s top law enforcement officer and a chief adversary of House Democrats’ efforts to oversee the Trump administration.

Trump announced Barr’s departure from the Justice Department, set for Dec. 23, in a tweet that portrayed that the two remained amicable despite the president’s recent criticism on some parts of Barr’s performance.

“Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!” Trump wrote. “Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family.”

Trump posted a resignation letter from Barr that included fawning reviews of Trump’s tenure in the White House that went well beyond the Justice Department and mentioned the military, the economy, peace in the Middle East, immigration, judicial appointments and a vaccine for COVID-19.

Barr’s letter tells Trump that “few could have weathered” a “partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds.”

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

Democrats saw something different in Barr. They accused him of misusing the Justice Department to support Trump’s reelection campaign and protect his personal interests, particularly early on in his tenure with the way he handled the release of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s effort to halt that probe.

California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that Barr misled the American people about the Mueller report, intervened in cases to protect Trump’s friends and used the Justice Department “as Trump’s personal law firm.”

“History will not be kind to Bill Barr,” Lieu tweeted.

The contentious relationship with the House continued through to Trump’s failed reelection bid, as Barr suggested there could be fraud in increased voting through mail-in ballots — one of Trump’s go-to accusations — and his role in federal officers using tear gas to disperse protesters at Lafayette Square near the White House ahead of a photo opportunity with Trump holding a Bible.

Trump declined to say he still had confidence in Barr following the election, after the attorney general told The Associated Press that the Justice Department had not found widespread fraud that could affect the ultimate result — a claim Trump still perpetuates on Twitter.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler pointed to that election fraud split between Barr and Trump as the reason for the ouster just 37 days before Biden takes office.

“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,” the New York Democrat said in a news release.

Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen will become acting attorney general, and Richard Donoghue will take over the duties of deputy attorney general, Trump tweeted. The Justice Department likely will play an integral role in any last-minute maneuvers Trump wants to make, including what could be contentious decisions about issuing pardons.

For his part, Barr also listed in his letter what he saw as accomplishments in the role known as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, including a focus on curbing violent crime, drug cartels and supporting law enforcement officers.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who took actions after the presidential election to further Trump’s unsuccessful challenge to the results, said Barr had set in motion reforms to how the Justice Department seeks permission from a secret court to conduct surveillance on Americans and taken a hard look at social media platforms.

“William Barr was the right man at the right time in overseeing highly political investigations and stood in the breach at times against both the left and the right," the South Carolina Republican said in a news release.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told Fox Business that he appreciated Barr’s summary of the Mueller investigation published ahead of the report’s actual release.

And Jordan also praised Barr’s appointment of federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate the origins of the department’s Trump-Russia probe in a way that will make sure the issue will last into Biden’s administration.

“So, we appreciate the service but that's a call for the president,” Jordan said. “And, of course, as I said, I think some Americans were, as I was frustrated, at the pace of some of the things that happened.”

Jordan’s reference to pace underscored another rift between Barr and Trump that opened in recent days, and the political balance beam that Barr walked between being a Trump loyalist and being accused of allowing Trump to taint the reputation of the Justice Department.

Barr reportedly kept investigations of Biden’s son, Hunter, from the public during the election to avoid the Justice Department looking political. On Friday, a Trump tweet included this: “I predicted Biden corruption, said to call the A.G., who perhaps knew of the corruption during the impeachment hoax?”

During Barr’s tenure, House Democrats grew increasingly frustrated in any effort to force Barr’s compliance with congressional oversight demands and found Barr in contempt of Congress in connection with stonewalling oversight attempts.

Nadler filed legislation to defund Barr’s personal office by $50 million for defiance of Congress, and committee members had called for Barr’s impeachment or the use of Congress’ inherent contempt power to fine officials.

Barr’s term at the Justice Department includes an ongoing fight against congressional subpoenas for Trump’s personal and business financial records at the Supreme Court, as well as blocking testimony before the committee of former White House counsel Don McGahn and the release of Trump’s tax returns.

In June, the Judiciary Committee spent a hearing focusing on Barr’s actions.

Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal tweeted that Barr was a “corrupt liar” and that she’s “not done holding him accountable.”

Other Democrats were looking forward instead. “So good riddance,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California tweeted. “Now, the work of restoring a credible and independent justice system must begin.”