President Donald Trump is considering pushing to have a special counsel appointed to advance a federal tax investigation into the son of President-elect Joe Biden.
Mr Trump — angry that out-going attorney general William Barr did not publicly announce the ongoing, two-year investigation into Hunter Biden — has consulted on the matter with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and outside allies.
That is according to several Trump administration officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.
Beyond appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the younger Biden, the sources said Mr Trump is interested in having another special counsel appointed to look into his own baseless claims of election fraud.
But if he is expecting his newly named acting attorney general to go further than Mr Barr on either matter, he could end up quickly disappointed.
Mr Barr on Monday evening announced he will resign effective next week, revealing his plans about a week after Hunter Biden publicly disclosed that he was under investigation related to his finances.
It is generally Justice Department policy not to disclose investigations that are in progress, though the subjects of those investigations can.
Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy attorney general, will step into the Justice Department’s top job in an acting role.
Mr Trump is still weighing his options, considering whether to pressure Mr Rosen to make the special counsel appointment or, if needed, to replace the acting attorney general with someone more likely to carry out his wishes.
He has even asked his team of lawyers, including personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, to look into whether the president has the power to appoint a special counsel himself.
A key question will be whether Mr Rosen can stand up to presidential pressure — and potentially withering attacks — in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.
If not, Mr Rosen could be cast aside in favour of others more willing to do the president’s bidding.
Believing that a special counsel probe could wound a Biden administration before it even begins, the president’s aides have urged Mr Trump to push for one, which would make it so the investigation cannot be easily stopped by the incoming president.
No firm decision has been made.
Mr Trump announced that Mr Barr would be stepping down from his position on December 23, amid lingering tension between the president and the attorney general over the Hunter Biden investigation.
Mr Trump was angry for days after learning that Mr Barr knew of the Hunter Biden tax investigation before the election but did not disclose it.
He also was unhappy that Mr Barr said in a widely reported interview with the AP that the Justice Department had not uncovered widespread election fraud that would have affected the results of the election.
As Mr Barr exits, the biggest thing by far hanging over the Justice Department is its investigation into Hunter Biden, which involves multiple US attorney offices and FBI field offices.
Appointing a special counsel could prove to be complicated, requiring consolidating different investigatory angles and bringing in someone new to run the probe and get up to speed.
Under federal regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest.
Appointing a special counsel for the Hunter Biden probe would also signal a more prolonged and complicated investigation than the current inquiry, so far largely centred on his taxes.
Either way, the probe is complicating Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general, upon whose shoulders this probe would land.
Any nominee for attorney general is likely to face a mountain of questions at a confirmation hearing about how they would oversee the probe.