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William Barr gets the cold shoulder from the White House

President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr, seen in 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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If there’s a member of President Trump’s Cabinet who has gone furthest out on a limb for him, it might be Attorney General William P. Barr. Since issuing a misleadingly pro-Trump summary of the Mueller report, Barr has intervened in a number of cases on behalf of Trump’s allies, sometimes in extraordinary ways. He has also echoed Trump’s controversial rhetoric on issues such as mail voting and antifa.

But even Barr has apparently become a squish in the eyes of Trumpworld. And on Wednesday, he received a rather conspicuous lack of an endorsement from the White House.

In a news briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked whether Trump has confidence in Barr after the attorney general said Tuesday that he had found no voter fraud on the level required to change the results of the 2020 election.

Her answer was decidedly noncommittal — even more so than past instances in which she has been asked about other administration officials and nominees.

“Does he have faith in Attorney General William P. Barr? Does he still have confidence in him?” asked NBC News’s Kristen Welker.

McEnany declined to commit to that.

“The president, if he has any personnel announcements — you’ll be the first to know,” McEnany said, without answering the question. She quickly asked for another question.

Attorney General William P. Barr said Dec. 1 the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in presidential election. (Video: Reuters)

This is a frequent question in White House briefings when it appears an official or nominee has run afoul of the president. And McEnany’s answer isn’t wholly different from past instances in which she has been asked it. Perhaps she simply doesn’t know. She has certainly punted on a thing or two in her time, despite being in Trump’s inner circle.

But her answer was also notably different from some recent instances in which she has been asked pretty much the same question.

When asked whether Trump had confidence in White House coronavirus task force member Anthony S. Fauci this summer, she suggested Trump did, while couching her words: “The president has confidence — confidence in the conclusions of our medical experts, but it’s up to him to determine what to do with that information.”

When asked about Juan Guaidó, whom the Trump administration had deemed the acting president of Venezuela, she said in June, “He has not lost confidence at all.”

Asked about the U.S. intelligence community, she said in July: “Yes, he does have confidence. And he has, many times, acted on verified intelligence.”

At other points, she has offered similar boilerplate about journalists needing to wait for any personnel announcements, but in doing so she has also indicated Trump still had confidence.

After Pentagon nominee Anthony Tata’s anti-Islam tweets came to light, she said in August, “I have no personnel announcements other than to say that the president still supports him.”

On whether he had confidence in Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn in September: “There are no changes. Dr. Hahn is FDA commissioner. So, yes.”

But there’s one relatively recent instance in which she offered a version of that — but gave a similar answer to Wednesday’s, without committing to Trump’s confidence.

She was asked in June, after Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper distanced himself from Trump’s display in D.C.'s Lafayette Square amid protests, whether Trump maintained confidence in Esper.

“With regard to whether the president has confidence, I would say: If he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I’m sure you all will be the first to know,” McEnany said.

Esper was fired last month, after tensions from the summer lingered and Trump apparently felt he had more latitude after the 2020 election.

Does that mean Barr will be fired as Esper was? Not necessarily. Time is running short on Trump’s presidency, and perhaps this is simply meant to send a message to Barr not to run afoul of Trump again.

But that message is pretty unmistakable when compared with how the White House and McEnany have fielded similar questions in the past. Trump’s allies have long hailed Barr as their savior when it comes to rooting out supposed corruption in the Russia investigation, but Trump has in recent weeks complained frequently about the lack of action on that front and others — such as alleged voter fraud.

If an ally of Barr’s stature and history were to find himself on the outs with Trump, that would certainly be a commentary on where we are in this moment.