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Attorney General William Barr plans to finish term despite wanting to leave early

  • NEW YORK TIMES / NOVEMBER 9
                                Attorney General William Barr on Capitol Hill in Washington.

    NEW YORK TIMES / NOVEMBER 9

    Attorney General William Barr on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Attorney General William Barr has told others he plans to remain in his post through the end of the Trump administration, setting aside his deliberations about stepping down by the end of the year, according to a person told of his decision.

Barr had been weighing whether to leave this month. But President Donald Trump — already angry with the attorney general’s refusal to help overturn the election — was said to be irritated with Barr’s contemplation of an early departure, according to the person.

People close to Barr said that he wanted to step down because he felt as if he had accomplished the work he set out to complete and that his plans were unrelated to Trump’s push to overturn the election and recent public complaints about Barr.

Barr was wary of the tensions and problems that could pop up when one administration handed off to the next, the people said. As attorney general in the final months of the George Bush administration, Barr confronted several contentious issues tied to pardons and an independent counsel’s investigation.

The president is disappointed with Barr for an array of reasons and has not ruled out firing him. “Ask me that in a number of weeks from now,” the president said last week in response to a question from a reporter about whether he had confidence in Barr.

In the lead-up to the election, Trump counted on Barr to release the findings of the investigation into how the FBI and the intelligence community scrutinized his campaign and Russian election interference. The president and his supporters thought the report would show that his campaign was framed, but no report was released before the election.

Then, last week, Barr broke weeks of public silence since the election, acknowledging that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the result. Barr’s comments were a striking repudiation of Trump’s increasingly specious claims of voter fraud and a departure for the attorney general, whose tenure has been marked by his willingness to carry out the president’s political agenda at the typically independent Justice Department.

Since taking office last year, Barr has used his clout to help the president’s political fortunes. The most notable example occurred at the end of the Russia investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, when Barr provided a misleading and incomplete description of the report to the public and cleared Trump of wrongdoing.

But Barr’s unwillingness to do more to help Trump try to overturn the election result has forced the president to turn to state legislatures, state attorneys general and a series of lawsuits. While those efforts have largely failed, surveys show that Trump has convinced roughly three-fourths of Republican voters that the election was stolen from him.

Barr had hoped to avoid the turbulence that often occurs at the end of an administration. In the final days of Barack Obama’s administration, senior Justice Department officials were forced to confront major developments in the investigation into the ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, and the officials spent the years that followed explaining their decisions to lawmakers.

In 1992, at the end of the Bush administration, Barr learned firsthand about the complications at the end of a presidency. Days before the 1992 election, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, Lawrence Walsh, made a court filing that included damaging information about Bush, who would claim for years that the disclosure helped Bill Clinton defeat him. During that transition, Barr felt tempted to fire Walsh and, under pressure from Senate Republicans, had the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Mueller, determine whether to investigate Walsh.

That December, Barr advised Bush to pardon several Bush and Reagan administration officials who had been prosecuted by Walsh. On Christmas Eve, Bush pardoned six people, leading to accusations that Bush was using one of his most sacred powers to protect his closest allies.

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