WASHINGTON (February 14, 2020) — Attorney General William Barr publicly swiped at President Donald Trump on Thursday, declaring the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and open cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Barr made the comment during an interview with ABC News just days after his Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors — who had recommended in a court filing that Trump’s longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison.
The move came after reports of political bias against President Trump amongst jury members, including the jury foreman who once ran for a Democrat congressional seat.
Political analysts also pointed out that the sentence recommendation of 7 to 9 years exceeded what is often recommended for more serious crimes such as bank robbery.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump “wasn’t bothered by Barr's comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions.” She added, “The President has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law.”
Barr said Trump's tweets created perception problems for the department that called into question its independence, but he denied there was any order from Trump and said Trump's tweets did not factor into the decision.
Earlier this week, Trump applauded Barr on Twitter for the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation, writing: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump blasted the recommendation on Twitter as “very horrible and unfair”— and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. The about-face prompted the four attorneys who prosecuted Stone to quit the case. One left the Justice Department altogether.
“I’m happy to say that, in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr said in the ABC interview. “However, to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people ... about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
National security adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters Thursday evening at the White House that Trump tweets to bypass the mainstream press and speak directly to the American people.
“It's just a different method of communicating with the American people and the president has every right to weigh in,” O'Brien said. "He's got First Amendment rights, even though he's president. And he's got a right to weigh in with his opinions on the big issues of the day and I think he's going to continue to do that.”
Stone was convicted in November of tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Barr said he was “of course” prepared to deal with any ramifications from the president for his comments. Administration officials said senior White House aides were not informed of the contents of Barr's interview before it aired.
“As I said during my confirmation, I came in to serve as attorney general. I am responsible for everything that happens in the department, but the thing I have most responsibility for are the issues that are brought to me for decision,” Barr said in the interview.
“What they did to Roger Stone was a disgrace,” Trump said Thursday during an interview with Geraldo Rivera on Cleveland's Newsradio WTAM.
He said of the prosecutors who resigned in protest: “I don't think they quit the case. ... I don't think they quit for moral reasons. I think they got caught in the act by me."
"Now what am I going to do, sit back and let a man go to jail maybe for nine years when murderers aren't going to jail? You have some of the most serious horrible rapists and everything else. They don't go to jail for nine years,” Trump said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham said in a statement that Barr “has my complete confidence” and “is the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the Rule of Law.”