Barr rejected the call for a special counsel to investigate claims of election fraud, while adding he saw “no basis” for the federal government to seize voting machines, a legally dubious step some of Trump’s allies have proposed in recent days.
The attorney general also rejected appointing a special counsel to investigate allegations against Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, which are currently being probed by federal prosecutors and IRS investigators. And Barr contradicted Trump’s disputing that Russia was likely the culprit in a massive cyber breach of US government systems, saying “it certainly appears to be the Russians.”
It’s a remarkable position for Barr to be in after he was one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Cabinet, helping to push back against the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller and appointing a US attorney to investigate the origins of the FBI probe into Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Monday, Barr appeared to reject Trump’s efforts to break norms surrounding the election result. But he declined to engage on another norm Trump is flirting with challenging in his final days, declining to answer a question on whether Trump had the right to pardon himself.
Here’s where Barr publicly distanced himself from the President:
On a special counsel on the election: ‘I haven’t and I’m not going to’
As the courts have rejected allegations of widespread fraud, Trump’s backers have pushed for a special counsel to keep probing the election, including the suggestion of naming Powell, who has focused her conspiracy theories on voting machines.
Barr said at Monday’s presser that there was “fraud, unfortunately, in most elections. I think we’re too tolerant of it.” But he said he stood by the finding that there was no systemic or broad-based fraud, which Trump refuses to admit.
“If I thought a special counsel at this stage was a right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven’t and I’m not going to,” Barr said.
‘No basis’ to seize voting machines either
Barr also rejected the notion that the US government should consider examining voting machines, which stems from a baseless conspiracy theory offered by Powell and Giuliani.
Barr was clear in his position Monday.
“I see no basis for seizure of machines by the federal government,” he said.
No need for Hunter Biden special counsel
The news this month that Hunter Biden was under federal investigation — and the steps the Justice Department took before the election to follow proper protocol and not disclose the probe before the election — was one of the key factors that raised Trump’s ire toward Barr and led to his planned resignation.
Since then, Trump has pushed for a special counsel to investigate the allegations against Hunter Biden, a question that could fall to Rosen, who is set to fill the top Justice Department job for the final month of Trump’s presidency and, potentially, until the Senate confirms Biden’s attorney general nominee.
Federal prosecutors in Delaware and IRS investigators are conducting the probe, which is focused on Hunter Biden’s financial dealings. He has not been charged with any crime, and his father is not implicated.
“To the extent there’s an investigation, I think it’s being handled responsibly and professionally currently within the department, and to this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel, and I have no plan to do so before I leave,” Barr said when asked about Hunter Biden.
Asked about the concern over what happens to the probe in the next administration, Barr said he was hopeful there wouldn’t be political interference. “I’m hoping the next administration handles that matter responsibly,” he said.
‘Certainly appears’ Russia responsible for hack
Trump contradicted his own officials, Republican and Democratic members of Congress and cybersecurity experts on Saturday when he publicly raised doubts on Twitter about whether Russia was responsible for the massive cyberattack on US federal government agencies.
Trump’s tweet, in which the President downplayed the significance of the hacking and suggested China could have been responsible instead, is only the latest instance where Trump has avoided condemning Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, however, Barr did not follow Trump’s lead, instead pointing to the comments last week from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had said Friday, “We can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”
“I agree with Secretary Pompeo’s assessment. It certainly appears to be the Russians, but I’m not going to discuss it beyond that,” Barr said.
The US has not yet formally attributed the hack to Russia, but US officials and lawmakers say there’s little doubt about who was behind the attack.
CNN’s Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.