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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr told reporters Monday that he sees no reason to name a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, there is no basis for the federal government to seize voting machines, and that he agrees with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's assessment that Russia was behind the massive recent hack of federal agencies.

Why it matters: Barr has rarely contradicted President Trump so openly, but he did so three times in his last press conference as attorney general.

  • As Axios' Jonathan Swan reported, White House officials have become increasingly alarmed about Trump's behavior after an Oval Office meeting last week in which he discussed commandeering voting machines and appointing conspiracy-spewing lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to inspect them.
  • Barr was viewed as one of the loyal members of President Trump's Cabinet throughout his tenure, which will come to an end after a rocky few weeks in which Trump privately discussed replacing him with somebody more willing to do his bidding.

What he's saying:

  • On Hunter Biden: "I think to the extent that there is an investigation, I think that it's being handled responsibly and professionally, currently within the department. And to this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel. And I have no plan to do so before I leave."
  • On voter fraud: "I see no basis now for seizing machines by the federal government. ... If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one. But I haven't, and I'm not going to."
  • On the SolarWinds hack: "From the information that I have, I agree with Secretary Pompeo's assessment. It certainly appears to be the Russians, but I'm not going to discuss it beyond that."

Worth noting: The purpose of the press conference was to announce new charges related to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, which killed 270 people. Barr first announced charges in the case as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 3: Descent into madness ... Trump: "Sometimes you need a little crazy"

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."