WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr took a public swipe at President Donald Trump on Thursday, saying that the president's tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and 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 seven to nine years in prison – and took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek. The department didn't offer an amended number.
Barr himself has been under fire for the Justice Department action, and Thursday's comment served as a defense of his own integrity. He is a Trump loyalist who shares the president's views on executive powers.
The remarks, made so quickly after the decision to back away from the sentencing, suggested that Barr was aware the reversal had chipped away at the department's historic reputation for independence. But he stopped short of acknowledging wrongdoing.
Barr said that 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.
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.”
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 in the department, our men and women here, 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.”
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.
“What they did to Roger Stone was a disgrace,” Trump said Thursday during an interview with Geraldo Rivera on Newsradio WTAM1100.
“I don't think they quit the case. I think they felt they got caught,” the president said of the Stone prosecutors. “I don't think they quit for moral reasons. I think they got caught in the act by me.”
Barr said he was “of course” prepared to deal with any ramifications from the president for his comments, adding that he would not be “bullied or influenced by anybody.”
“And I said, whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial board, or the president. I'm gonna do what I think is right. And, you know, the, I think the – I cannot do my job here at the Department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
President lashes out at Kelly
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out against former White House chief of staff John Kelly for being disloyal after he came to the defense of a former national security aide who offered key testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
The president's comments came after Kelly defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was among the administration officials who raised concerns about Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president. That call spurred the president's impeachment trial, which ended in acquittal last week.
“Like so many X's, he misses the action & just can't keep his mouth shut, which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do,” Trump tweeted about Kelly. “His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that 'John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.' Wrong!”
Kelly, speaking at a public forum on Wednesday in Morristown, New Jersey, said that Vindman did exactly as he was trained in raising concerns to his superiors after hearing “questionable” comments from Trump, according to a report by The Atlantic magazine.