Attorney General William Barr is on thin ice after failing to deliver on two investigations that President Donald Trump claimed would uncover evidence of a broad conspiracy against him.
This week, one of those investigations wrapped up with no criminal charges or public report.
The other investigation will not be finished before November 3, throwing a wrench into Trump's plans to tout its findings to boost his reelection chances.
Trump on Wednesday refused to say whether he would keep Barr on as attorney general if he won the election. "Can't comment on that," he told Newsmax. "It's too early. I'm not happy, with all of the evidence I had. I can tell you that. I am not happy."
The statements mark a stunning shift for Barr, whom the president has long praised as one of his most loyal defenders.
Attorney General William Barr is in the doghouse after failing to deliver on two Department of Justice investigations that President Donald Trump claimed would show evidence of a broad conspiracy against him by the former administration, senior FBI and DOJ officials, and the so-called deep state.
Trump has made no secret of his anger, and on Wednesday he declined to say whether he would keep Barr on as head of the DOJ if he won the November election.
"Can't comment on that," Trump told the conservative outlet Newsmax TV. "It's too early."
"I'm not happy, with all of the evidence I had. I can tell you that," the president added. "I am not happy."
Trump's comments mark a stunning shift for Barr, whom Trump has long praised as one of his most loyal defenders.
The president tapped Barr for attorney general after Barr wrote a memo saying the special counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction-of-justice investigation into Trump's actions was "fatally misconceived" and "legally insupportable." When he was confirmed by the Senate, one of the first things Barr did was open an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
In his public statements, Barr often echoed the president's claims, even when they weren't supported by evidence, like the notion that the FBI illegally "spied" on his 2016 campaign. The DOJ inspector general concluded last year that no such improper surveillance took place.
After Barr overrode career prosecutors in February to request a more lenient sentence for the Trump ally and felon Roger Stone, the president applauded the attorney general "for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought."
Three months later, when Barr and senior DOJ officials moved to dismiss the department's case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump told Fox News in an interview that "Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage, and he's going to go down in the history of our country."
And last year, while he was strong-arming the Ukrainian government into launching politically motivated investigations targeting his Democratic rival, the president told Ukraine's president it "would be great" if he contacted Barr and Trump's personal defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani to probe the matter.
But Barr's fortunes took a turn for the worse in the past week.
On Friday the attorney general drew the president's ire when he told Republican senators that a separate investigation he was overseeing on the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation would not conclude in time to release a report before the November election.
Trump has long said that investigation, spearheaded by US Attorney John Durham, will show evidence that the Obama administration and the "deep state" masterminded a plot to take him down by illegally launching the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
So far, the Durham probe has resulted in a criminal charge against a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators. But it has not uncovered evidence of a nefarious conspiracy against the president and his loyalists by his perceived political foes.
The president unleashed his anger on Barr after it was reported that the Durham report would not be released before the election.
"To be honest, Bill Barr is going to go down as either the greatest attorney general in the history of the country or he's going to go down as, you know, a very sad situation," Trump told Fox's Maria Bartiromo.
In another blow to Trump, The Washington Post reported this week that an internal DOJ investigation commissioned by Barr that focused on whether Obama-era officials improperly "unmasked" Flynn's name in intelligence reports formally ended closed with no criminal charges or public report.
"Unmasking" refers to the practice of revealing the identity of a US person whose name is incidentally collected in intelligence reports monitoring the communications of foreign agents. The US intelligence community surveils hundreds of thousands of foreign targets per year, and unmasking is a routine and legal tool officials use to make more sense of the communications they're monitoring. The intelligence community gets thousands of unmasking requests a year.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed that senior Obama administration officials, as well as high-ranking FBI and DOJ officials, illegally "unmasked" Flynn's name in intelligence reports monitoring the communications of Sergey Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador to the US. But the DOJ's investigation into the matter found no irregularities or evidence of substantive wrongdoing related to the unmasking requests.
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