The Sydney Morning Herald

Barr’s final act is rejecting Trump’s last-grasp election scheme

By Michael Balsamo

Updated December 22, 2020 — 2.05pmfirst published at 7.00am

Washington: Attorney-General William Barr used his final public appearance to undercut US President Donald Trump on multiple fronts, saying he saw no reason to appoint a special counsel to look into the president’s claims about the 2020 election or to name one for the tax investigation of President-elect Joe Biden’s son.

In the course of breaking with Trump on matters that have been consuming the president, Barr also reinforced the belief of federal officials that Russia was behind a massive hack of US government agencies, not China as Trump had suggested.

Attorney-General William Barr speaks during a news conference.

Attorney-General William Barr speaks during a news conference. AP

This came as democrat Senator Ron Wyden revealed fresh details of the hack, after it was discovered that the email accounts of dozens of the highest-ranking officials in the Treasury Department had also been exposed.

Wyden said that though there is no indication that taxpayer data was compromised, the hack “appears to be significant,” including theft of encryption keys.

“Treasury still does not know all of the actions taken by hackers, or precisely what wants

It is also not clear what Russian hackers intend to do with any emails they may have accessed.

A Treasury Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Wyden’s statement.

In the Treasury Department’s case, Wyden said, the breach began in July. But experts believe the overall hacking operation began months earlier when malicious code was slipped into updates to popular software that monitors computer networks of businesses and governments. The malware, affecting a product made by U.S. company SolarWinds, gave elite hackers remote access into an organization’s networks so they could steal information.

It wasn’t discovered until the prominent cybersecurity company FireEye determined it had been hacked.

Tech giant Microsoft, which has helped respond to the breach, revealed last week that it had identified more than 40 government agencies, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and IT companies infiltrated by the hackers.

Barr rejected Trump’s claims about Chinese interference at a press conference to announce additional criminal charges in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 190 Americans, an issue he had worked on in his previous stint as attorney-general in the early 1990s. He chose the announcement, in a case very personal and important to him, for his last public appearance, then took questions.

Retreating to the Oval Office, President Donald Trump does not want to talk about what lies ahead once he leaves office.

Barr said the Justice Department’s existing investigation into Hunter Biden’s financial dealings was “being handled responsibly and professionally”.

“I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel and I have no plan to do so before I leave,” he said. Nor for election fraud, he said.

Barr had been in lockstep with the President during much of his tenure as Trump’s attorney-general. But Trump, as he has done with many others in his inner circle, started criticising Barr publicly. He was particularly angry that Barr didn’t announce the existence of a two-year-old investigation of Hunter Biden.

Cannot accept his electoral loss: US President Donald Trump. AP

And shortly before he announced his resignation, Barr told The Associated Press that he had seen no evidence of widespread voting fraud, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary. Trump has continued to push baseless claims even after the Electoral College made Biden’s victory formal December 14.

A special counsel would make it more difficult for the incoming attorney-general and president to close investigations begun under Trump. Doing so could lend a false legitimacy to baseless claims, particularly to the throngs of Trump supporters who believe the election was stolen because he keeps wrongly claiming it was.

Barr’s statements on Monday may make it easier for the acting attorney-general who takes over, Jeffrey Rosen, to resist pressure from the White House to make such appointments.

In his 2019 confirmation hearing for deputy attorney-general, Rosen said he was willing to rebuff political pressure from the White House if necessary. He told legislators that criminal investigations should “proceed on the facts and the law” and prosecutions should be “free of improper political influences.”

“If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no,” he said at the time.

Last Friday, Trump’s legal team pushed Trump to seize voting machines in his hunt for evidence of fraud. The Homeland Security Department made clear, however, that it had no authority to do so. It is also unclear what that would accomplish.

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