Critics fear Trump could pressure William Barr’s successor for big favors
Photo: Getty Images
William Barr's abrupt move to step down as attorney general this week has raised concerns among Justice Department veterans that Donald Trump will once again pressurize Barr's successor to do him major and potentially risky political and legal favors.
Former Justice Department officials say they are concerned that Trump will rely on Barr's less experienced successor, incumbent Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, to advance Trump's proposed measures, including appointing special advisers to investigate President-elect Joe Biden's son To use Hunter Biden and the DoJ to investigate Trump's unsubstantiated allegations of widespread election fraud.
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Critics also fear that Rosen could face pressure from Trump to obtain a legal view that would allow Trump to apologize for himself by reversing a Justice Department opinion dated back to the Nixon era and a self-pardon from the president forbids. Such a move would likely spark widespread outrage.
Growing concerns that Trump will attempt to do Rosen, who became Barr's deputy AG in early 2019 with no prior experience, are partly due to Trump's post-election anger at Barr, despite arguably his strongest ally ahead of the campaign the November election was in the cabinet
But after losing to Biden, Trump got mad at Barr for not publicly disclosing that Hunter Biden's taxes were audited by a U.S. attorney in Delaware during the 2020 campaign. Trump was also furious at Barr's statement that there was no evidence of significant election fraud in the election.
At his last press conference on Monday, Barr said he had no intention of appointing a specific lawyer to deal with Hunter Biden or investigating Trump's unsubstantiated allegations of widespread election fraud.
William Barr said at his latest press conference on Monday that he had no intention of naming a particular lawyer to deal with Hunter Biden. Photo: Michael Reynolds / AP
Attorneys-General are empowered to appoint special advisers, and last week the Associated Press reported that Trump had the idea of winning over as special adviser to conspirator and attorney Sidney Powell, whom Trump recently met at least twice to discuss far-fetched electoral fraud claims to investigate, the election was rigged.
Paul Rosenzweig, a former prosecutor under Ken Starr when he was investigating President Bill Clinton as special adviser, said Barr's departure after heavy criticism from Trump appears to signal that Trump wants a "more malleable leader at the top of the DoJ" - one who won't be able to withstand his last minute aberrations ”.
"There are many things that we could expect Trump to entrust the department with in the final days of his presidency," said Rosenzweig. “Most likely, special legal counsel will be appointed to investigate Hunter Biden. Another is a new statement by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that overturns the Nixon-era decision that presidential self-forgiveness is illegal. "
Rosenzweig added that it remains to be seen whether Rosen is "as malleable as Trump hopes".
Prior to becoming assistant attorney general, Rosen Barr was the assistant secretary of the transportation division and spent many years as an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis, where Barr previously worked.
Former DoJ Inspector General Michael Bromwich targeted Trump trying to pressure Rosen to do him a favor, but urged Rosen to ignore Trump's pleas, noting that Trump may also be self-employed on some matters acts.
"I don't think we can imagine what inappropriate action Rosen might take," said Bromwich. “Unlike Barr, Rosen is an unknown and enigmatic figure to the outside world who has no reputation outside of the narrow circle of people he has worked with. I doubt he would want his legacy to match the whims of a president who has passed his senses. "
A bit of Trump poking roses would be hard to do, and Trump could just turn to his legal allies, Bromwich added.
"I don't think OLC's position on self-forgiveness would be worth the exercise for anyone. If it came to the conclusion that self-forgiveness is constitutional, it would be dismissed as an enforced opinion and further deteriorate OLC's reputation," said OLC Bromwich.
“I doubt he [Trump] will feel the need to seek such an opinion. He will instead rely on legal advice from Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and the other legal outcasts he has surrounded himself with. "
"If I were Rosen I would change my phone number and take a longer vacation," said Bromwich. "If that is not possible, he should make it clear that he is not doing anything that violates his constitutional oath or his basic sense of right and wrong."
Other DoJ veterans add that any Trump pressure on Rosen to appoint special advisers to investigate Hunter Biden or unsubstantiated charges of serious election fraud had a good chance of being overturned by Bidens AG, given Barr's statements the need for they refused.
Paul Pelletier, former acting chief of the DoJ fraud department in two administrations, said any candidate reported by Biden for the AG would have the power to remove a special adviser for "good causes" including "an apparently politically motivated investigation".
In addition to pushing Rosen for a favor, ex-DoJ hands also say Trump's own actions aimed at incriminating potential pardons from family members and political allies on Trump against others he did this week are after him Departure legal headache could be office.
Some pardons could lead to obstruction of justice charges or incite incriminating testimony in an investigation into Trump and his business by two New York prosecutors upon his departure.
Barr noted at his 2019 confirmation hearing that a president's far-reaching pardoning powers are fraught with risk. While presidents have the right to pardon family members, Barr said that if a family member's pardon is associated with an act that violates an obstacle law, it could be a disability.
Donald Ayer, who was deputy AG under George HW Bush, noted that Trump may have to consider that some pardons might "boomerang." He may have cause for concern that people he has pardoned will be forced to testify because the people he pardons will not have the right to testify against Trump or anyone else after his pardon and possibly another humble grant of immunity due to the fifth amendment to be refused. "
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