Weeks after Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani first pushed the Hunter Biden files and a collection of sordid dirt to the New York Post in a last-ditch effort to drag his client across the 2020 finish line, both he and the president, as well as several of Trump’s political lieutenants, have grown frustrated at the lack of impact it’s had.
But rather than conceding that the broader public might not be interested, Trump and Giuliani have instead put the blame for the failure to break through in part on Attorney General William Barr.
In the aftermath of the New York Post reporting earlier this month—for which Trump had personally greenlighted Giuliani’s decision to act as the paper’s source—the former New York City mayor has spoken with President Trump both about the Hunter Biden materials and what could be done about them from a law enforcement perspective, according to a White House official and a source close to Giuliani. Recently, the president and Giuliani discussed their mutual frustrations with the lack of action from Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray, saying that the emails and Hunter Biden files have provided legal ammunition to probe the Bidens, the person close to Giuliani said.
The Trump attorney had also advised the president that the events of the past two weeks underscore why Trump should fire Wray, arguing that it shows that the current FBI director is an anti-Trump subversive, according to the White House official. This official was not aware of Giuliani making as harsh a comment about Barr. Reached for comment on Wednesday night, Giuliani told The Daily Beast, “I don’t comment on my conversations with my client.”
The FBI has declined to confirm or deny if it’s even investigating the Hunter Biden-related emails and images, and the bureau and Justice Department have remained tightlipped on the issue. There is a long-standing institutional aversion to publicly talking about these types of investigations this close to a presidential election—though there is still no evidence at the moment that one even exists, much to the consternation of much of Trumpworld.
Were Barr to make any announcement, said Matt Miller, the former director of the Department of Justice’s public affairs office, it would be a seismic politicization of the agency.
“Barr announcing an investigation at this point would make Jim Comey’s actions in 2016 look quaint by comparison. Comey at least wasn’t trying to hurt Clinton and he wasn’t getting involved at the behest of a candidate and his attorney,” said Miller. “A Barr announcement would be a full banana republic-style intervention in the political process. DOJ shouldn’t even be taking any new investigative steps involving either candidate at this point unless there is some reason to believe those steps couldn’t wait until after the election.”
In their private conversations, Giuliani has mentioned to Trump that Barr could be up to something that he and others simply do not know about, but that he thinks it’s unlikely, according to the source close to Giuliani. Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, do not appear to be banking on any intervention.
“We have one week left,” said one senior Trump campaign official. “I don’t think Bill Barr is going to ride into town and save the day.”
The resignation from both the campaign, and Trump and Giuliani specifically, underscore the degree to which the president’s team was banking on an “October surprise” against the Biden family to change their political fates. It also illustrates the disappointment they’re experiencing that it hasn’t played out the way they’d hoped.
“Why aren’t they doing anything?… What the hell are they waiting for?!” President Trump has exclaimed to some close advisers this month, according to two people who’ve heard him say this.
Trump’s displeasure with Wray has long been brewing, with the president angling to oust the FBI director if he wins reelection. But last week, Trump took to his favorite morning cable-news show to signal his displeasure at Barr as well.
“We’ve got to get the attorney general to act,” the president said on Fox & Friends. “He’s gotta act, and he’s gotta act fast, and he’s gotta appoint somebody.”
While Trump has grumbled about Barr’s inaction on television, it’s likely that he hasn’t done so in person. According to two individuals with knowledge of the matter, the president has been counseled by some senior aides that he should avoid picking up the phone and telling Barr directly that the Justice Department needs to open a new investigation into the Bidens prior to the election, arguing that if such a call leaked, it would cause more political headaches than it’s worth.
“The president responded like, ‘I know, I know,’” one of these sources said, adding that Trump suggested he wouldn’t do it.
White House spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment on Thursday morning.
On Monday, Giuliani went on the Fox Business program hosted by Lou Dobbs to argue that his findings “could be used in a court of law… There's a trial here that could be done that would be fabulous for a trial lawyer, I'd love to try it.”
Dobbs, who moonlights as a Trump adviser and confidant, then contended that the FBI and Justice Department “don't want any part of trying cases against prominent Democrats” in recent years. He then called out the U.S. attorney general: “Where is William Barr? He’s gone radio silent!” Dobbs said.
Hunter Biden is accused of using his father’s name to help advance his foreign business ventures. And former associates have said that Joe Biden was aware of those activities and occasionally involved in them. But the elder Biden has strongly disputed that and news outlets have found no evidence that he profited off of his son’s work. Though the president, Giuliani, and other Trump loyalists continue to obsess over the story, there are signs that his reelection campaign staff have tiptoed away from the strategy.
As The Daily Beast reported on Monday, almost two weeks after the Post began dropping stories on Hunter and Joe Biden this month, Trump’s 2020 team has barely utilized the material in its paid media. It hadn’t mentioned the Biden son in ads on its Facebook or Instagram accounts since October 13. And even America First Action, the major pro-Trump super PAC, had not namechecked Hunter Biden at all in its TV or Facebook advertising since then as well.
“It appears from what’s been uncovered so far that Hunter Biden was trading on his father’s name in order to make money for himself and his family. The question the DOJ has to answer is whether that constitutes a federal crime,” Steven Groves, who previously served as a lawyer and then spokesman in the Trump White House, said on Wednesday.
He added, “The DOJ first must determine whether a crime has been committed. Second, it has to decide if it’s a federal crime that falls under its jurisdiction. And third, it has to decide if a special counsel is necessary, for instance, if there’s a conflict of interest such that the Justice Department would not be able to conduct the investigation through its regular process. So there are several steps before getting to the point where Attorney General Barr would be able to come out and announce anything.”