This is far from what Trump has been saying about the attorney general recently, and the timing of the departure is strange, given that the administration will end (despite what Trump says) in barely more than a month.
Before Election Day, Barr warned about possibilities of voter fraud, making claims that experts described as outlandish, and after the election he authorized federal prosecutors to investigate fraud claims. But on December 1, Barr said that the Justice Department had not turned up any evidence of fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” placing him at odds with his boss. Trump fulminated publicly against his attorney general’s decision not to get involved in any of the postelection lawsuits that Trump and his allies pursued in an attempt to overturn the will of voters, calling Barr a “big disappointment.”
Trump was also furious that a much-hyped investigation into the origins of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, did not produce any findings before the 2020 election. The president’s ire grew when The Wall Street Journal reported that Barr had overseen a probe into Hunter Biden, son of President-elect Joe Biden, but had taken pains to ensure that it was not made public prior to the election, to avoid the appearance of tampering. (Hunter Biden has not been charged with any crimes, but the probe is ongoing.) The problem was that tampering with the election was exactly what Trump had wanted Barr to be doing.
As the president raged publicly, The New York Times reported first that Barr might leave early, and then more recently that he would not. Given this backstory, the mutual warm words from Barr and Trump are hard to take at face value, but they also make it tough to know what actually happened. Did Trump push Barr out? Was Barr annoyed by Trump’s meddling? The enigma makes it even harder to know what to expect from the next few weeks. Was Barr’s departure a disagreement over things that had already happened, or is Trump hoping that new Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, the current deputy attorney general, will be easier to railroad into fresh mischief?
David A. Graham: Barr misled the public—and it worked
Nonetheless, Trump’s split with Barr echoes his falling-out with Sessions before his first attorney general’s departure two years ago. Neither man deserves much praise for doing the bare minimum of resisting some of Trump’s abuses, but their departures are interesting because no Cabinet secretaries have been as effective at carrying out Trump’s agenda as Sessions and Barr. In an executive branch filled with third-rate government apparatchiks and incompetent private-sector imports, Sessions and Barr were experienced in Washington and knew what to do. Beyond that, they were closely aligned with Trump ideologically, yet both left more or less unceremoniously.