William Barr’s abrupt decision to step down as attorney general this week has raised fears among Justice Department veterans that Donald Trump will exert further pressure on Barr’s successor to do him important and potentially risky political and legal favors.
Former Justice Department officials say they are concerned that Trump is leaning on Barr’s less experienced successor, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, to push forward policies Trump has suggested he supports, including appointing special advisers to investigate the son. President-elect Joe Biden, Hunter Biden. and using the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread voter fraud.
Critics also fear that Rosen may face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that allows Trump to forgive himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and prohibits a presidential pardon. Such a move would likely spark widespread outrage.
Growing concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy attorney in early 2019 with no prior Justice Department experience, stem in part from Trump’s anger at Barr after the election. , despite being arguably his strongest ally in the cabinet in the run-up to the November election
But after losing to Biden, Trump was enraged at Barr for failing to publicly disclose that Hunter Biden’s taxes were being scrutinized by an American attorney in Delaware during the 2020 campaign. Trump was also furious at Barr’s statement that there was no signs of significant electoral fraud in elections.
In his last press conference on Monday, Barr said he had no intention of appointing a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, or to investigate Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.
Attorneys general are authorized to appoint special attorneys, and last week the Associated Press reported that Trump had raised the idea of using conspirator and attorney Sidney Powell, with whom Trump met at least twice recently to discuss outlandish election fraud claims, such as special counsel. To investigate false claims, the election was rigged.
Paul Rosenzweig, a former attorney for Ken Starr when he was a special counsel investigating President Bill Clinton, said Barr’s departure after strong criticism from Trump seems to indicate that Trump wants a more malleable leader at the head of the Justice Department, one who does not. will resist. his aberrations of the last minute ”.
“There are many things we could expect Trump to order the department to do in the last days of his presidency,” Rosenzweig said. “The most likely is the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Hunter Biden. Another is a new opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which reversed the Nixon-era decision that presidential pardons are illegal. “
Rosenzweig added that it remains to be seen if Rosen “is as malleable as Trump expects him to be.”
Before becoming Barr’s deputy attorney general, Rosen had been the deputy secretary of the transportation department and spent many years doing corporate legal work at Kirkland & Ellis, where Barr used to work.
Former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich predicts Trump will try to pressure Rosen into doing him favors, but urged Rosen to ignore Trump’s pleas, noting that Trump can also act on his own in some matters.
“I don’t think we can fully imagine the range of inappropriate actions that Rosen could be asked of,” Bromwich said. “Unlike Barr, Rosen is an unknown and enigmatic figure to the outside world, with no reputation outside the narrow circle of people with whom he has worked. I doubt that he wants his legacy to bow to the whims of a president who has lost his mind. “
It would be difficult to get Trump to hint at Rosen, and Trump could simply ask his legal allies for advice, Bromwich added.
“I don’t think an OLC opinion on the issue of self-forgiveness is worth it to anyone. If I were to conclude that a self-pardon is constitutional, it would be dismissed as a coerced opinion and would further degrade OLC’s reputation, ”Bromwich said.
“I doubt that he [Trump] you will feel the need to obtain such an opinion. Instead, he will choose to rely on the legal advice of Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and the rest of the legal misfits he has surrounded himself. “
“If I were Rosen, I’d change my phone number and go on an extended vacation,” Bromwich said. “If that is not possible, you must make it clear that you will not do anything that violates your oath to the constitution, or your fundamental sense of right and wrong.”
Other Justice Department veterans add that any pressure from Trump on Rosen to appoint special advisers to investigate Hunter Biden or unfounded charges of major voter fraud had a good chance of being overturned by Biden’s AG given Barr’s statements they reject. the need for them.
Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section in two administrations, said any of Biden’s reported candidates for AG would have the power to remove a special counsel for “good cause,” including “obviously motivated investigations. for political reasons “.
In addition to pressuring Rosen for favors, ex-DoJs say Trump’s own actions involving possible pardons from family members and political allies, which Trump is said to weigh above others he did this week, could create pain for him. legal head after he leaves. office.
Some pardons may lead to charges of obstruction of justice or stimulate incriminating testimony in investigations of Trump and his business by two New York prosecutors when he retires.
Barr noted at his 2019 confirmation hearing that a president’s broad powers to pardon carry risks. While presidents have the right to pardon family members, Barr said that if a pardon to a relative is “related to some act that violates an obstruction statute, it could be an obstruction.”
Donald Ayer, who was deputy attorney general under George HW Bush, noted that Trump may need to consider that some pardons “could be a boomerang. You may have reason to worry that the people you forgive will be forced to testify, as once pardoned, and perhaps with a modest grant of immunity, the people you forgive will not have the right to refuse to testify. against Trump or anyone else based on the Fifth Amendment. “
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