Trump Presses Loyal Pompeo, Barr for Dirt to Use Against Biden
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is ramping up pressure on two of his most loyal Cabinet members to produce information that could damage Joe Biden’s prospects as polls show the former vice president leading ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Trump said in an interview with the conservative outlet Newsmax that he’s “not happy” with the evidence he’s seen coming out of Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department and wouldn’t say whether he’d keep him on in a second term.
Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo vowed that his team is doing “everything we can” to release additional emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the department, something the president demanded last week in a rare rebuke of his top diplomat.
Both men -- seen as among Trump’s most steadfast loyalists -- are under pressure to deliver for a president known for quickly turning on aides who don’t do his bidding, or can’t deliver.
Barr has weighed in in ways that pleased Trump in a number of criminal cases -- including those of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and longtime confidant Roger Stone -- but two high-profile probes haven’t so far generated the damaging information the president has sought.
Trump said in an interview last week on Fox Business Network: “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 down as a very sad situation.”
Trump’s comments to Newsmax followed a report in the Washington Post that a federal prosecutor tapped by Barr to investigate whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the “unmasking” of names of Americans in intelligence reports -- including those related to the Russia investigation --didn’t find any major instances of wrongdoing.
“I’m not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that,” Trump said when asked about the report. “I’m not happy.”
Pressed on whether he’d be willing to keep Barr if there’s a second Trump term, the president said it’s “too early” to say.
Barr was in New Mexico on Wednesday, where he brought the president’s law-and-order message and warned against those who he said want to cut police budgets.
“If you want to be safe, if you are tired of the blood and mayhem on the streets, then you have to start paying attention to who you vote for,” Barr said.
The report that the “unmasking” probe has petered out was at least the second disappointment in recent weeks for the president from the Justice Department, adding to other perceived setbacks or rebukes from top officials recently.
U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, the prosecutor Barr handpicked to look into the origins of the 2016 Russia probe, is no longer expected to issue charges or release a report before the election, according to a Justice Department official. Trump has repeatedly said he believes a review of Obama administration actions in late 2016 and early 2017 should result in indictments against former President Barack Obama and Biden, among others, for “spying” on his campaign.
In other signs of divergence between Trump and his top officials, FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly said that Russia remains the biggest foreign threat to the U.S. election, despite Trump frequently saying that China is a bigger worry.
On the Job and on the Stump, Cabinet Officials Flout Hatch Act
And the president’s pick to lead the Homeland Security Department, Chad Wolf, said last month that white supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the U.S. from within the country, despite the president focusing his criticism on left-wing protesters.
Pompeo, the longest-serving member of Trump’s national security cabinet, has found himself in the unusual position of having to respond to the president’s public criticism after he and Barr were singled out last week.
At a news conference Wednesday at the State Department, Pompeo snapped at a reporter who questioned whether doing the president’s political bidding on the Clinton emails would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activities of government employees while they are on the job. Trump has long led “Lock Her Up” chants against Clinton for her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
“Releasing emails for the sake of transparency can’t possibly be a violation of the Hatch Act,” Pompeo replied. “That’s a ridiculous question.”
Pompeo said that the department has long since published about 35,000 emails from Clinton’s tenure and that any recent delays in getting more messages out has been due to staffing issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to continue to do the work as we identify material, we look at it and review it, we’ll make sure we make the right decisions for the American people,” Pompeo said. “And transparency, we’ll – it’s what we’ve done for my two-and-a-half years as secretary of state. It’s what we’ll do every single day until I’m no longer Secretary of State.”
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