US Attorney General William Barr, one of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies, is stepping down before Christmas, the president has announced.
Mr Barr’s term was due to end on 20 January, when Mr Trump leaves office.
Tensions between the two flared after Mr Barr said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in November’s vote.
He was criticised by Mr Trump for not publicly disclosing during the election campaign that the justice department was investigating Joe Biden’s son.
Mr Trump tweeted Mr Barr’s resignation letter saying: “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!”
Mr Barr’s letter to the president began by saying he “appreciated the opportunity to update” the president on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) review of voter fraud allegations in the recent election and “how these allegations will continue to be pursued”.
He did not give more details about the review, and praised Mr Trump’s achievements in office before ending the letter by saying he would depart from his position on 23 December.
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…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
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Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen will serve as acting attorney general, Mr Trump said.
Why is Barr going now?
Rumours that Attorney General Barr was eyeing an early exit from the Trump administration turned out to be true. Although he received a traditional Trump send-off – his departure announced via Twitter – the president was cordial, thanking him and posting his effusive resignation letter.
If there were any discord over the attorney general’s recent handling of election investigations – his assertion that he had seen no evidence of widespread fraud – it did not spill into public view.
Mr Barr probably will best be remembered for his management of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. He defused what could have been a political bomb for the president by giving an advanced summary of the independent counsel’s full report in a four-page memo that downplayed many of its more serious allegations.
Perhaps the president’s gratitude for that service outweighed any of their more recent disagreements and allowed them to part on amicable terms. Or perhaps in the waning days of the Trump presidency, there was no sense fighting on the way out the door.
With William Barr gone, however, there may be less institutional resistance if President Trump decides to bypass traditional justice department procedures and issue a spate of controversial pardons for his closest allies. By exiting now, Mr Barr is affording himself the ability to stay silent on such matters.
Mr Barr, 70, had previously served as attorney general under President George HW Bush in the early 1990s.
He came out of semi-retirement in 2019 to replace Jeff Sessions, who was forced out by President Trump over the justice department’s appointment of Special Counsel Mueller to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Democratic critics of Mr Barr accused him of shielding his ex-boss from justice. Trump supporters recently turned on him due to his unwillingness to support Mr Trump’s election lawsuits.
Since the 3 November election, Mr Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, and members of his legal defence team have spoken of an alleged international plot to hand President-elect Joe Biden the win.
Last week, Mr Trump attacked Mr Barr on Twitter, claiming that he did not publicly reveal that Mr Biden’s son Hunter was being investigated by the justice department. Hunter Biden has since confirmed that his tax affairs are being looked into.
Mr Trump claimed the decision not to reveal the investigation was a “big disadvantage” for the Republicans at the polls.
Who is Jeff Rosen?
Mr Rosen, 56, joined the justice department in May 2019, replacing Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general, but he will serve for less than a month in the top job.
He is perhaps best known for leading the department’s antitrust case against Google, filed in October, which accuses the tech giant of establishing monopolies in search and search advertising.
He first joined the Trump administration in 2017 as deputy transportation secretary, but also worked as a policy adviser under President George W Bush.
In between government posts, he has followed a legal career in the private sector, with several stints at the powerful US law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
Mr Trump has described him as “an outstanding person”.