An obvious question arises at the outset, which is why Barr would resign now. Speculative reasons on that head would keep a sophomore seminar busy for a full semester. I don’t pretend to be sure.
The Occam’s Razor solution on this would seem to be that Attorney General William Barr has told President Trump he’s leaving office on 23 December 2020. We’ll stipulate that right up front. The wording is odd, and the context is a bit peculiar, but OK. The New York Times says Barr is resigning, so the odds would seem to be that that’s the deal.
Trump has tweeted that Jeff Rosen, currently the Deputy Attorney General, will become Acting A.G., and Richard Donoghue will step in as Acting Deputy.
…Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all! pic.twitter.com/V5sqOJT9PM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
This too would seem to argue that what we’re seeing is a resignation, and not just a notice from Barr that he’s taking off for Christmas vacation on the 23rd.
There’s still something that looks “off” about this. The move comes after Trump tweeted in the last week about being disappointed in Barr (over Barr’s silence on the investigation of Hunter Biden). Nevertheless, Trump tweets more praise of Barr than I can recall him including in any tweet about a departing senior official.
Trump also includes Barr’s letter, which has not been characteristic of previous Trump tweets about resigning officials. The letter starts out expressing appreciation that Barr was getting to brief Trump on DOJ’s “review of voter fraud allegations,” which seems unusual in a resignation latter. (“Thank you for letting me brief you on this urgent topic of the day. Oh by the way, I’m resigning.”)
Barr then proceeds with two paragraphs summarizing the excellence of the Trump administration’s performance in areas not related to the Justice Department portfolio. That too is uncharacteristic of resignation letters.
Paragraph four, much briefer, is about the things DOJ has accomplished.
Then Barr says he will “spend the next week wrapping up a few remaining matters important to the Administration and depart on December 23rd.”
Trump’s own words have a valedictory sound to them, certainly. “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…”
But by Trumpian standards that’s chatty, folksy, and inconsequent where Trump is never any of those things in the resignation situation. Trump has let most senior resignations be shrouded in less Trump-approved verbiage and more impassivity, especially the contentious ones. James Mattis, for example, wrote a more extensive resignation letter — a letter, indeed, that signaled more clearly than Barr’s that Mattis’s intention was to resign. Trump didn’t make reference to it, although he did tout progress made in rebuilding the military “during Jim’s tenure.” (Granted, Mattis’s letter was blunt about policy differences with the president.)
….equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
Jeff Sessions’s resignation letter likewise got no play from POTUS. Trump was very terse in that instance, announcing first that Matthew Whitaker would become Acting A.G., and then thanking Sessions in the briefest terms for his service.
….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
When Rex Tillerson was fired, Trump announced it with similar brevity, focusing on the moves of Mike Pompeo to State and Gina Haspel to be CIA director.
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
My antenna is twitching with the Barr development. Maybe it shouldn’t be. But the features of the move are out of pattern.
Meanwhile, DOJ sources reportedly disclosed on Monday that quite a number of prosecutors are being added to John Durham’s special counsel team. No one can really tell what’s going on, so there’s no point in boring readers with speculation they can quite competently indulge in themselves.
If I had to put this in terms of another military analogy, I’d say the DOJ is massing forces with the Durham plus-up. I’m ambivalent about the Barr letter. If you think about it, the only thing it really does is put a date out there: 23 December. Perhaps there’s an audience that’s supposed to focus on the date. It looks like an “information” stake being driven for a purpose.
There’s no value in going further than that for the moment. Several windows of opportunity remain open for Trump to continue a campaign to expose all the vote-tampering from the 3 November election, in spite of the Electoral College vote on Monday. Congress is to vote on accepting the EC vote on 6 January 2021. Presumably, at least as things stand now, that’s the day on which there will be certainty that no additional surprises will erupt over the election result.
Of course, if Congress can’t reach a decision on 6 January, certainty will be delayed past that date. For some, that prospect has a horribly atrocious ring to it. Others see it as a continuation of hope. We are a nation divided – although I’m not convinced it’s 50-50. I’d say it’s more 40, 40, and Tired and Upset.
Remember: history doesn’t conspire against democracy. Democracy is its own worst enemy; history sees it coming every time. History conspires against liberty. But America is the proof that history doesn’t always win.