WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that Attorney General Bill Barr will step down with just a month remaining in his administration, two weeks after Barr publicly threw cold water on the president’s insistence that his election loss was illegitimate because of widespread voter fraud.
Trump announced that Barr will leave the Justice Department before Christmas and will be replaced by Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen as acting attorney general. “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job,” Trump insisted in his Monday tweet, but the announcement comes after recent friction between the president and Barr.
Trump tweeted that the two men had met on Monday. The letter that Barr sent Trump announcing his departure, which the Justice Department titled as a "Letter of Resignation," began by noting that he had given the president an "update" on the Justice Department's "review of voter fraud allegations and how these allegations will continue to be pursued." The letter didn't include any other details on what Barr told Trump about that review; to date, there have been no federal prosecutions that bolstered Trump and his supporters' baseless claims that there was fraud across multiple states that rigged the election for President-elect Joe Biden.
"At a time when our country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome," Barr wrote.
Barr has rarely broken with Trump in his two years in office, but in an interview with the Associated Press published Dec. 1, Barr said that the Justice Department hadn’t uncovered evidence of fraud that could change the results of the election. He didn’t totally disavow Trump’s fraud claims or directly criticize the president, but his comments contradicted the campaign’s postelection rhetoric and conspiracy theories of pervasive, nationwide fraud that tilted the race to President-elect Joe Biden.
“[T]o date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.
In response to Barr’s interview, the campaign released a statement from Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, who have led Trump’s postelection legal fight, that was critical of the Justice Department.
“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation,” Giuliani and Ellis wrote. “Again, with the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.”
Before and after the election, Barr had fueled Trump’s narrative that expanded mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic would undermine the integrity of the election by authorizing prosecutors to pursue certain voter fraud investigations. As the New York Times reported, Barr’s guidance went against previous DOJ policies meant to limit law enforcement activity that could affect an election.
Barr spent the bulk of his resignation letter praising Trump and his record on everything from the economy and response to the coronavirus vaccine to the confirmation of federal judges and support for law enforcement. He took a parting shot at the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, describing it as an "effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia."
"Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance," Barr wrote.
Barr is the second attorney general ousted by Trump. Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was forced to submit his resignation in November 2018; Trump had repeatedly, and publicly, criticized Sessions over the course of his two years in office for recusing from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr, who was confirmed in February 2019, enjoyed a far less fraught tenure in office. He earned praise from Trump for tapping Justice Department officials to probe the Mueller investigation and for directing the US attorney’s office in Washington to recommend a lesser sentence for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and obstruction; Trump later commuted Stone’s prison sentence.
Barr revealed on Dec. 1 that he had appointed US Attorney John Durham in October as a special counsel to continue his counter-investigation into the origins of the 2016 Russia inquiry, meaning it will likely continue into the Biden administration.
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