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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Attorney General William Barr will step down next week, he said on Monday, shortly after the Electoral College confirmed President Donald Trump's loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
Barr, who had angered Trump by not supporting his incorrect claims that the Nov. 3 election result had been tainted by widespread fraud, said he would leave office on Dec. 23, a little less than a month before Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.
Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen will take over as acting attorney general after Barr's departure, Trump said.
"Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!" Trump said of Barr on Twitter.
A White House official told Reuters that Barr resigned on his own accord.
Trump lashed out at Barr on Twitter over the weekend after the Wall Street Journal reported that Barr knew earlier this year about an investigation into Biden's son Hunter's taxes.
Trump retweeted a comment from radio host Todd Starnes saying Barr should be fired for not disclosing the probe during the campaign. "A big disappointment!" Trump said in his tweet.
Barr's fate in the waning days of the Trump administration had been in question since he said earlier this month that a Justice Department investigation had found no sign of major fraud in the election, contradicting Trump's claims.
Trump's legal team accused Barr of failing to conduct a proper inquiry into the allegations.
Barr's resignation letter was released shortly after he briefed the president about the Justice Department's review into the Trump campaign's voter fraud claims. In it, Barr pledged the allegations "would continue to be pursued."
The White House official said Barr's meeting with Trump was amicable.
In the letter, Barr also praised what he called Trump's historic record, saying he had helped boost the economy, strengthen the military and curb illegal immigration.
"I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people," Barr wrote.
...Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all! pic.twitter.com/V5sqOJT9PM— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
Biden beat Trump by 306 to 232 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College that chooses the president, as well as by more than 7 million ballots in the popular vote.
Despite that, Trump has refused to concede and continues to promote his baseless voting fraud allegations, which have been repeatedly rejected by state and federal officials.
Trump has pursued a series of legal challenges in numerous states, but he has not managed to prevail in any of them.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a long-shot lawsuit by Texas that was backed by Trump and a number of other states seeking to throw out voting results in four states, dealing what is seen as the fatal blow in his quest to undo his election loss.
Core Trump supporter
Barr has long been a staunch Trump ally, drawing scorn from Democrats and many of the department's own career prosecutors who have accused him of putting Trump's personal interests ahead of those of the country.
"William Barr was willing to do the President's bidding on every front but one. Barr refused to play along with President Trump's nonsensical claims to have won the election," Democratic House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.
"Whomever Joe Biden chooses as the new Attorney General will have a tremendous amount of work to do to repair the integrity of the Department of Justice," Nadler added.
Prior to the 2020 election, Barr repeated Trump's unfounded claims that mail-in ballots could be subject to fraud, and he also intervened in several high-profile criminal cases in ways that benefited Trump's political allies such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
In May 2019, Barr tapped federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate Obama-era intelligence and law enforcement officials for possible crimes in connection with their early stage probe into whether Trump's 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government.
On Dec. 1, Barr disclosed he had elevated Durham to the role of special counsel in October so that he could continue his criminal investigation - a move that will make it politically difficult for Biden to remove him from the post until the probe has concluded.
Noah Bookbinder, a former federal prosecutor who is now executive director for the progressive advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said on Monday that Barr "has done tremendous damage to the Department of Justice and to the American people's very faith in our justice system.
"It is beyond ironic that Barr seems to have been pushed out for not going quite far enough to abuse his position for Trump's benefit, however unconscionably far he did go," Bookbinder's statement said. "The reason may be ridiculous, but good riddance."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Additional reporting by Eric Beech and Jeff Mason; Editing by Scott Malone, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)