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Trump considers pushing for special prosecutor in Hunter Biden investigation

President Trump and outgoing Atty. Gen. William Barr at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
President Trump and outgoing Atty. Gen. William Barr at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in September.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump is considering pushing for a special prosecutor to advance a federal tax investigation into the son of President-elect Joe Biden, setting up a potential showdown with incoming acting Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Rosen.

Trump — angry that outgoing Atty. Gen. William Barr didn’t publicly announce the ongoing, two-year investigation into Hunter Biden — has consulted on the matter with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and outside allies.

That’s according to several Trump administration officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.

Beyond appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the younger Biden, the sources said Trump is interested in having another special counsel appointed to look into his own groundless claims of election fraud. But if he is expecting his newly named acting attorney general to go further than Barr on either matter, he could end up quickly disappointed.

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Barr said Monday he would resign from his post, effective next week — an announcement that came about a week after Hunter Biden publicly disclosed that he was under an investigation related to his finances. It is generally Justice Department policy not to disclose investigations in progress, although the subjects of those investigations are free to do so.

Rosen, the deputy attorney general, will step into the Justice Department’s top job in an acting role with only a month left of the Trump administration. A longtime litigator, he has served as Barr’s top deputy since May 2019 but largely shies away from the spotlight. He said in a statement Tuesday he was “honored” to serve and “will continue to focus on the implementation of the department’s key priorities.”

One can’t help but wonder: What could Trump have done — other than his tragicomic efforts after the fact — to produce a different election outcome?

Trump is still weighing his options, including whether to pressure Rosen to make the special counsel appointment or to replace him with someone more likely to carry out his wishes. He has even asked his team of lawyers, including personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, to look into whether the president has the power to appoint a special prosecutor himself.

A key question will be whether Rosen can stand up to Trump’s pressure — and potentially withering attacks — in the waning weeks of the administration. If not, Rosen could be cast aside in favor of others more willing to do Trump’s bidding.

Believing that a special counsel’s investigation could wound a Biden administration before it even begins, Trump aides have urged the president to push for one, which would make the investigation difficult to stop by the incoming president. No firm decision has been made.

Trump announced that Barr would be stepping down from his position Dec. 23 amid lingering tension between the two men over the Hunter Biden investigation. Trump was angry for days after learning that Barr knew of the tax investigation before the election but did not disclose it.

Does William Barr’s late-blooming lack of obeisance make up for the rest of his tenure as Donald Trump’s lackey?

He also was unhappy that Barr said in a widely reported interview with the AP that the Justice Department had not uncovered any widespread election fraud that would have affected the results of the election.

For much of his tenure, Barr was perceived as one of the president’s most loyal Cabinet members, especially after he framed the results of Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation in a manner favorable to Trump, even though the special counsel did not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice. It was Barr who first appointed a U.S. attorney to review the case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn and then sought to dismiss the criminal charges against Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

As Barr exits, the biggest thing by far hanging over the Trump Justice Department is its investigation into Hunter Biden, which involves multiple U.S. attorney offices and FBI field offices. Appointing a special counsel could prove to be complicated, requiring consolidating different investigatory angles and bringing in someone new to run the inquiry.

Under federal regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest — reasons that must be spelled out in writing. Appointing a special counsel for the Hunter Biden investigation would also signal a more prolonged and complicated inquiry than the current one, so far largely centered on his taxes. A subpoena seeking documents from the younger Biden asked for information relating to more than two dozen entities, including Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Either way, the investigation is complicating President-elect Biden’s pick for attorney general, upon whose shoulders this probe would land. Any nominee for attorney general is likely to face a mountain of questions at a confirmation hearing about how he or she would oversee the investigation.

It could be that Rosen is left in the position for a few weeks after Biden is sworn in Jan. 20 — if Trump doesn’t fire him first.

Rosen has been the public face of some of the Justice Department’s biggest actions, including its antitrust case against Google and the criminal case against opioid maker Purdue Pharma. Before joining the Justice Department, he worked at the Department of Transportation as general counsel and then deputy secretary.

At Rosen’s confirmation hearing in 2019, he suggested that 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 that 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.


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