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Barr To Leave DOJ Before Christmas

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And in other news, Attorney General Bill Barr, one of President Trump's most trusted Cabinet members, will be leaving the Justice Department before Christmas. President Trump announced via Twitter that Barr will be replaced on an acting basis by the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen. Also on Twitter, the president praised Barr for doing, quote, "an outstanding job" and characterized their relationship as, quote, "a very good one." Well, joining me now to talk about this latest development is NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what do you think this departure means, I mean, given the close relationship between Barr and Trump?

JOHNSON: You know, reading Bill Barr's resignation letter that he sent to the president today, you really get a sense of how aligned they were in terms of outcomes. Bill Barr went out of his way to use kind of Trump-y language, talk about how Trump was met with a partisan onslaught in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds and to talk about once again, in a manner of saying, the Russia hoax that President Trump has raged against for his entire presidency.

But Bill Barr happened to be, I think, Ailsa, one of President Trump's most effective Cabinet members, carrying out a lot of his priorities and goals over nearly two years in office. And these two men had been very close. I saw recently a photo of Bill Barr's face as president Trump held up a newspaper headline in which he said he was, you know, not convicted, not removed from office in that impeachment earlier this year. And Bill Barr just looked delighted.

CHANG: I mean, that said, the president has been displeased with Barr for a while now. Can you just give us some context there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Ailsa, it's winter, and a chill has certainly entered the relationship between Bill Barr and Donald Trump. First, after Barr told the Associated Press that the Justice Department had found no widespread fraud in the election that would have changed the outcome. And then second, after Barr - after Trump started beating up Barr on Twitter for not doing more in the course of the election to play up what we now know is a tax investigation of President-elect Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden. And President Trump was very unhappy with Barr about that, spent all weekend, in fact, raging on and off on Twitter against the attorney general, which is why his characterization that he had a good relationship with Bill Barr today is a little bit off.

CHANG: Well, stepping back, I mean, Barr presided over a Justice Department that was often in the news. How do you think he'll be remembered as attorney general?

JOHNSON: You know, mostly somebody who was in line with the president. Remember, one of his first big acts was receiving that report on Russian interference in the 2016 election prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller...

CHANG: Yes.

JOHNSON: ...And issuing a kind of misleading summary of Mueller's findings. Mueller did, in fact, find evidence of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. But to hear Bill Barr tell it at the time, you would not have understood the nature of the evidence, especially when it came to allegations that President Trump himself had allegedly obstructed justice in that Russia probe. Barr also mostly did what the president wanted to help his friends, although Barr on occasion - once he told ABC News he wished the president would stop tweeting about active criminal cases. But these guys were mostly in line together. And one famous episode when they were in line together was in June in Lafayette Square before that photo-op that President Trump did at the church where the square was really cleared of protesters. And Bill Barr was on the scene taking a lot of heat for that at the time - nonviolent protesters largely.

CHANG: Right. Well, briefly, you know, as we mentioned, the deputy AG will be stepping in for Barr. What can you tell us about Jeffrey Rosen?

JOHNSON: You know, Jeff Rosen does not have a background at the Justice Department before becoming deputy attorney general. He hasn't been a prosecutor. It's not unusual at the end of an administration for a deputy AG to run the department the last months in office. But Jeff Rosen is not a guy who's super well-known among prosecutors, and that's a challenge given how morale is in the Justice Department these days.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.