Attorney General Bill Barr has frequently faced steep criticism for his consistent capitulation to the political whims of the president, and now, he’s taken yet another step that’s garnering concern. He has removed Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann from his post leading the Justice Department’s Office of Law and Policy, which, in short, acts as a sort of supervisory office within the department, helping ensure that operations are in line with the law. The sorts of operations that it deals with include “federal counterterrorism and counterintelligence activities” along with “immigration… and Russia’s interference in U.S. elections,” ABC summarizes.
According to ABC, “two weeks ago, Wiegmann… was told he is being reassigned and replaced with a political appointee.” Wiegmann had led the office throughout some of the Obama administration and for the entirety of the Trump administration so far. The political appointee who is replacing him is 36-year-old Kellen Dwyer, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia prior to his new job. In his old job, Dwyer made headlines for accidentally revealing that the federal government had secretly filed criminal charges against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which distributed material that the Russian government had stolen from U.S. political interests around the time of the 2016 election.
Dwyer has “limited time and experience handling national security matters,” as ABC summarizes — he joined the federal government six years ago, compared to the twenty-three years that Wiegmann has been with the federal government — but now, he’ll be tasked with leading efforts to deal with the legality of issues like the government’s response to foreign interference in domestic elections. Katrina Mulligan, who has served as a career national security official in the Obama and Trump administrations, told ABC that Dwyer could have sway over an internal debate over when “it is and isn’t appropriate” to make a public revelation of foreign interference in U.S. elections.
Just recently, the Trump administration already moved to restrict some information about that topic: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who is a political ally of the president, said that his office would no longer be providing election security-related, in-person briefings to Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) have insisted that Ratcliffe’s decision to stick with written updates does not adequately fulfill the legal requirement for Congress to be kept informed.
As for the Office of Law and Policy, Matt Olsen, who served as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center during the Obama era, told ABC that “in and of itself, it’s unremarkable” for a political appointee to get tapped to lead the office, but “the concern here is that you have someone who by all accounts has been doing a great job in a very sensitive role… [and] now within really just weeks of the election is replaced with somebody who is viewed more as a partisan.”
Trump and Barr have repeatedly kicked out officials under politically dubious pretexts, from Geoffrey Berman — the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — to Michael Atkinson, who was the inspector general overseeing the intelligence community.