Officially, William Barr can’t do anything to stop the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden after Wednesday, his last day on the job. For all practical purposes, though, the outgoing Attorney General just stuck a wooden stake through the heart of the idea. In a press conference announcing new charges in the 1988 Pan Am-Lockerbie bombing, a reporter asked whether Barr would appoint an independent investigator to probe the president-elect’s son.
Nope, Barr said bluntly. The investigation is being handled “professionally” and there’s no need for any change:
Attorney General William Barr says he has “not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel” to investigate Hunter Biden, and has “no plan to do so” before he steps down https://t.co/Nj065CIsxp pic.twitter.com/My7WnkdTTq
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 21, 2020
Barr added that “I would have appointed one” if he saw a need for outside counsel. That doesn’t necessarily prevent his successor, current deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen, from making that appointment himself. It does, however, cut out the legs from making it look like anything but a political power play by Trump. Barr has actually been rather independent of Trump but is perceived more as on the team by outsiders, especially in Congress. His opposition to a special counsel appointment in the Hunter Biden probe would ruin Rosen’s reputation if Rosen proceeded with such an appointment … and Rosen’s unlikely to make that kind of move for a president with thirty days left in office.
Furthermore, that may be exactly what Barr has in mind today. One has to wonder whether Barr would have left at all if he wasn’t convinced that Rosen would hold the line. He’s making it much easier for Rosen by bluntly rejecting Trump’s demands on his way out the door.
That wasn’t the only Trump team demand that Barr explicitly rejected, either:
NEW: “I see no basis now for seizing machines by the federal government,” AG Barr tells @alex_mallin.
— ABC News (@ABC) December 21, 2020
AG Barr: I see no basis for seizing election machines.
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) December 21, 2020
That idea has been percolating among Trump and his advisers, according to the New York Times, as a way of “proving” fraud. That would be an extraordinary move, not least because the Department of Justice doesn’t really have jurisdiction. States run their own elections, not the federal government, and the states cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security to the extent they choose. Before a court would allow the DoJ to seize those machines, they would have to show evidence of an interstate crime — evidence that Team Trump has yet to demonstrate in any of its court cases.
Nonetheless, Trump has thirty days to put a lot of pressure on Rosen to do something to back up Trump’s claims of a stolen election. Barr just made it a lot more difficult to use the DoJ for those purposes …. and it’s tough to think he did so by accident.
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