President Donald Trump is reportedly looking to leave his successor with the albatross of a special counsel investigation as payback for the Russiagate investigation that hampered his first two-plus years in the White House, according to multiple reports.
The Associated Press, citing “several” anonymous “administration officials and Republicans close to the White House” reported early on Wednesday that the 45th president was intent on hamstringing President-elect Joe Biden and has repeatedly been lashing out in fits of anger and politically-motivated pique after Attorney General Bill Barr kept the fact of an active federal criminal investigation into Hunter Biden a secret until well after the November election.
The prospect of a special counsel–generally considered to be an untouchable and independent force if appointed within certain parameters—being appointed in an effort to sandbag the incoming Democratic administration is not strictly news. The president has repeatedly hinted he would prefer to do exactly that for some time.
But Monday’s shocking announcement that the 77th and 85th attorney general was officially resigning just before Christmas may well put Trump’s final disruptive wish on a glide path as Jeffrey Rosen takes the reins at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Legal expert and Tulane Law Professor Ross Garber said he was “not surprised” that Trump was throwing his weight around to obtain such a result in the waning days of his presidency and sounded a note of caution for the would-be targets and figures on the periphery of whatever comes about due to the president’s request.
“In light of this and other issues at DOJ, President-elect Biden should swiftly announce his picks for key positions at Justice,” said Garber, a political investigations and impeachment lawyer. “His attorney general nominee should be as non-partisan as possible. And he should address how the investigation of Hunter Biden will be handled. One option is to ask the current U.S. Attorney for Delaware–who was confirmed with bipartisan support–to stay on and continue to oversee the investigation.”
On Monday afternoon, CNN also reported on the potentiality of a new special counsel just in for Biden’s nascent administration.
According to that story by Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins and Evan Perez, Trump is considering a wholesale firing spree during his final days in office that might very well include Rosen if the incoming acting attorney general refuses to abide by the president’s requests for a Biden family-focused special counsel.
So far, there has been no public indication as to which way Rosen viewed Trump’s alleged “payback” request. But the prospect of an independent prosecutor tasked with investigating the son of Trump’s successful political rival has legal experts surveying the landscape with trepidation–for both of the parties involved on either side.
But the appearance of outright revenge against establishment players in Washington, D.C. was complicated earlier this month when the younger Biden announced he was under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over tax-related issues.
Pitfalls for the work-in-progress Biden administration over that investigation were made crystal clear when the Biden-Harris team relayed that admission via transition letterhead, which also included a statement from the president-elect seemingly absolving his son of any wrongdoing and suggesting the inquiry itself was untoward.
“This shouldn’t have come from the transition team,” Garber noted at the time. “As far as we know it has nothing to do with the transition. If investigation isn’t closed by inauguration, there should be a serious discussion about appointment of a special counsel.”
Still, others cautioned that Trump, being the known quantity that he is, was likely to sully the waters for whatever investigation results from the Hunter Biden scandals–especially if he aggressively pushes his subordinates to take such a vengeful-seeming action.
“Whatever interest the Department of Justice, or another relevant federal agency, might have in legitimately investigating Hunter Biden should be decided and pursued as the law dictates,” whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid said in a message to Law&Crime. “President Trump’s interest in pressing for additional and unusual person-specific investigations displays his personal vindictiveness and retaliatory behavior that should be rejected.”
National security and federal employment attorney Bradley P. Moss, who is a partner at Zaid’s law firm, was flatly dismissive of the lame duck president’s request to hamper the Democratic administration.
“All the special counsels in the world won’t convert the existing facts into something they are not,” Moss said in an email. “Hunter Biden may have tax issues but none of it appears tied to his father, and that’s the end of it.”
[images via ANGELA WEISS and MANDEL NGAN / AFP via Getty Images]
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