The US attorney general, William Barr, one of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies, has resigned just weeks after he contradicted the president by saying the justice department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.
Barr has long being seen as a loyalist to the president and faced accusations throughout his tenure that he had turned the Department of Justice (DoJ) into an obedient servant of the White House.
Trump sought to play down tensions as he announced Barr’s resignation in a tweet on Monday: “Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family…”
Trump continued: “Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all!”
The announcement came moments after Joe Biden was formally elected as the next president of the United States by members of the electoral college on Monday, effectively ending Trump’s unprecedented bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Barr surprised many observers by telling the Associated Press in an interview published on 1 December that he disputed the idea, promulgated by the president and his re-election campaign, that there had been widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Trump has attempted to undermine Biden’s victory by pointing to routine, small-scale issues in an election – questions about signatures, envelopes and postal marks – as evidence of widespread fraud across the nation that cost him the election.
Trump and some of his allies have also endorsed more bizarre sources of supposed fraud, such as tying Biden’s win to election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chávez” – the former Venezuelan president who died in 2013.
“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DoJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said in the interview with the AP.
Barr said some people were confusing the role of the federal criminal justice system and asking it to step in on allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits and reviewed by state or local officials, not the justice department.
Barr added: “There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all, and, people don’t like something – they want the Department of Justice to come in and ‘investigate’.”
Those comments infuriated Trump and his supporters as they have tried – and failed – to find any meaningful way, via the courts, requested recounts, or pressure on officials, of overturning his defeat by Biden.
Speculation about Barr’s future was rife from the moment his AP interview was published, as the most high-profile member of the administration flatly to contradict the president’s continuing arguments that he is the rightful winner.
Trump announced in December 2018 that he was nominating Barr to become his next attorney general, replacing Jeff Sessions, whom the president had fired not long prior.
He began the post as the Russia investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump 2016 election campaign and Russian operatives was approaching its denouement in early 2019 under the stewardship of the special counsel Robert Mueller and, at first, it was anticipated that Barr would be an independent voice at the DoJ and take a non-partisan position on the investigation.
But critics have often accused Barr of showing more loyalty to the president than to the nation. In one such instance, Barr called a press conference last April and offered a misleading preview of Mueller’s report. He omitted the report’s detailed description of potential obstruction of justice by Trump and falsely claimed the White House had cooperated fully.
This set the tone for Trump’s inaccurate trumpeting when the report itself came out, in restricted form, that he and his team had enjoyed “total exoneration” by Mueller – a blatant misinterpretation.