Barr’s Exit Leaves Deputy Rosen Running Trump’s Justice Department
(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr’s imminent departure will leave the Justice Department in the hands of his handpicked deputy, who could quickly find himself under pressure from Donald Trump to sustain his false claims of election fraud and pursue his political enemies.
When Barr steps down on Dec. 23 after increasingly sharp criticism by the president, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen becomes the nation’s top law enforcement officer for Trump’s final month in office. He’s seen in legal circles as a institutionalist, someone who’s managed the department’s internal operations while Barr focused on high-profile issues like the law-and-order response to racial justice protests and a review into the origins of the 2016 Russia probe.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading Republican supporter of Trump but also Barr, said in a statement Monday that Rosen is “a good man and will be an ethical leader and a steady hand at the Department of Justice.”
That doesn’t mean Rosen will be able to avoid the president’s frustration over losing the 2020 election.
Trump’s closest allies have vowed to press for any possible means to pursue his claims of widespread voter fraud even after the Electoral College confirmed Biden’s victory on Monday. In addition, some Republicans have called for a special counsel to be named to ensure a continuing investigation of Hunter Biden, the president-elect’s son, who’s been the subject of federal probes, at least one of which is ongoing.
Barr said in his departure letter on Monday -- posted by Trump on Twitter - - that allegations of election fraud “will continue to be pursued.” That could make the next few weeks fraught for Rosen.
Trump praised his new acting attorney general as “an outstanding person” and called the incoming deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue, “highly respected.” The coming weeks will test Trump’s enthusiasm for the two men, given his long history of demanding “loyalty” from the Justice Department, even when that bucks the institution’s attempts to keep politics at arm’s length.
As acting attorney general, Rosen could appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden before the Jan. 20 inauguration, although some legal experts have questioned whether an appointment under that circumstance would be legal.
Alternatively, Rosen could simply put a senior Justice Department official in charge of overseeing the Hunter Biden matter, a move that wouldn’t provide as much protection to the official but may be more legally sound.
Trump has largely ignored advice from the Justice Department in making decisions on pardoning or commuting sentences, including for former advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. But Trump may push Rosen to voice support for pardons he may issue in his final days in office -- and perhaps press for a finding by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel backing him up if he claims the power to pardon himself.
Before serving as Barr’s deputy, Rosen, 62, held government posts including general counsel and later deputy secretary of the Transportation Department and general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
From 2009 to 2017, Rosen was a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where Barr also has held a senior position. After Barr became attorney general in February 2019, he successfully lobbied Trump to pick Rosen as his deputy even though he had never been a prosecutor, a more typical background for the post.
To overcome concerns during Rosen’s May 2019 confirmation hearing, Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, cited a letter supporting the nominee from 49 former senior department officials. They said Rosen’s experience made him “highly qualified” for the position.
Barr on Fraud
Trump’s tweets about Barr on Monday -- “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!” -- and the letter he posted from the departing attorney general showed little hint of the breach between them in recent weeks.
The departure of Barr, 70, follows a Dec. 1 interview with the Associated Press in which the attorney general said the Justice Department hadn’t seen “fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
A day later, Trump posted a 46-minute taped speech in which he repeated unfounded claims that Democrats had somehow fraudulently engineered his defeat. Then on Dec. 3, the president balked at voicing support for his attorney general.
“Ask me that in a number of weeks from now,” Trump said in response to a question about whether he retained confidence in Barr. “They should be looking at all of this fraud.”
A second blow came when Biden’s transition team announced last week that Hunter Biden was advised that he was under federal criminal investigation. Barr kept information about the probe, which has been going on since 2018, from being announced publicly, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Trump criticized Barr in an interview Saturday with Fox News, saying the attorney general should have disclosed the tax probe into Hunter Biden before the election.
“All he had to do is say an investigation is going on,” Trump said.
Despite those tensions, Barr offered praise for Trump and his accomplishments in his resignation letter.
“Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance,” Barr wrote the president. “The nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless claims of collusion with Russia.”
When Barr took office in February 2019, he moved aggressively, seeking to restore the department’s stance as strong in support of law enforcement and to pursue his longtime belief that the Constitution justifies a dominant role for the executive branch.
But he was criticized for bending to Trump’s political demands, including becoming personally involved in criminal cases against some of the president’s allies, to the point that some career prosecutors resigned in protest.
Trump and his supporters in Congress also wanted Barr to reveal information from an investigation into whether FBI or intelligence officials committed any wrongdoing in the early stages of their probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone associated with Trump conspired in the operation. Barr even echoed Trump’s claim that his campaign had been the victim of “spying.”
But weeks before the election, Barr signaled that the FBI-Russia probe, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, wouldn’t release preliminary findings ahead of the vote.
“To be honest, Bill Barr is going to go down as either the greatest attorney general in the history of the country or he’s going to go down as a very sad situation,” Trump said in an interview in October on Fox Business Network.
Yet in what many Republicans will see as a parting gift, Barr revealed that he’s named Durham to serve as special counsel in the continuing FBI-Russia probe, meaning his work is likely to continue into the Biden administration.
Starting next week, Rosen will have oversight of that probe, and the responsibility for dealing with Trump if he demands more.
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