RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Another departure from the White House or the administration, rather - Attorney General William Barr is leaving the Justice Department. President Trump announced last night in a tweet that Barr would be stepping down before Christmas. The president commended Barr, but their once-strong relationship has become frayed in recent weeks. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is with us. Good morning, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Barr's been one of President Trump's most important advisers over these last couple of years. There are just a matter of weeks before the end of the Trump administration. Why is Barr leaving now?
LUCAS: Well, Barr didn't say in his resignation letter why he was leaving at this point. He said that he had a couple of things that he wanted to wrap up and that he would officially take off on December 23. He said in his resignation letter, though, that he's proud to have played a role in the administration. He heaped praise on the president, said that he's had a number of achievements, despite what Barr describes as relentless resistance. The prime example of that in Barr's view has been the Russia investigation, which, of course, the president himself has railed against for years. There was no mention, however, in this resignation letter from Barr of what had been an increasingly fraught and tense relationship between these two men, particularly in recent weeks.
MARTIN: So let's talk about that. I mean, President Trump kept falsely alleging that there was widespread fraud in this election. Bill Barr came out and said, no, there is no evidence of that. How much did that damage the relationship?
LUCAS: Well, it certainly played a role here. The president made clear that he didn't like hearing that from Barr. Barr's comments, of course, directly contradicted the president's baseless claims that the vote was somehow rigged. At the time, Trump fired back by saying that Barr really hadn't even looked for voter fraud.
But there is more that has led to this unraveling relationship. The president also has been irate about a Justice Department investigation into President-elect Joe Biden's son, Hunter, for possible tax evasion. That news only emerged last week. That is the sort of thing that the president wanted out before the election, though. Over the weekend, he railed against Barr for that not being out before the vote. I have to say, though, that it is department policy not to take action in the run up to an election that could affect the outcome. So Barr was really just following department policy.
MARTIN: What's Barr's legacy at the Justice Department going to be?
LUCAS: Well, he's been in the job for about two years, and it has been certainly a very controversial tenure. Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham say that Barr has done a wonderful job. Barr has been effective in promoting an expansive view of presidential power, of defending Trump and promoting his agenda. But he has also been an incredibly divisive and polarizing attorney general. Former Justice Department officials and legal experts have repeatedly called on Barr to resign, accusing him of politicizing the department. Even current federal prosecutors have taken the highly unusual step of speaking out publicly against Barr.
And critics of the attorney general point to a number of things. Barr's rollout of the Mueller report, which spun things in a highly favorable light for the president. Barr's intervening in the Justice Department's cases against the president's friends, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr's pushing baseless claims ahead of the election that mail-in voting was ripe for fraud and abuse. And then, of course, during racial justice protests this summer, Barr played a key role in the forceful clearing out of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square in front of the White House, ahead of the president's photo op in front of a church there.
MARTIN: The president said Jeffrey Rosen is stepping in as acting attorney general. Just briefly, what do we know about him?
LUCAS: Rosen is currently the No. 2 at the department. He is not a prosecutor, never has been. He's only been at the DOJ for about a year and a half. Now he'll have a month or so as acting attorney general until the Biden crew comes in.
MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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