William Barr on Thursday said that President Donald Trump should stop commenting about criminal matters, telling ABC News that president’s tweets “make it impossible” for the attorney general to do his job. Let’s just say that the clean up on aisle 5 maneuver by Barr in the wake of the Roger Stone sentencing debacle of February 2020 didn’t leave many convinced.
In an interview with ABC’s Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas, Barr reiterated that the president had “never” directly asked him to “do anything in a criminal case,” but said his tweets had become increasingly problematic.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president. I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
While many Trump administration officials willing to criticize the president have become the target of his vindictive wrath, Barr said he was prepared to accept any consequences in order to make critical DOJ decisions based on “What I think is the right thing to do.”
Barr claimed he had already decided to amend Stone’s sentencing recommendation before Trump tweeted his disapproval, saying the incident illustrated “how disruptive these tweets can be.”
Barr’s light rebuke of presidential interference in criminal prosecutions was met with incredulity and disdain by many.
“This is absolutely nonsense theatrics and I don’t buy if for one moment. Barr interfered in the Stone case for purely political reasons and Barr’s sole problem is the inconvenience of Trump saying it out loud,” former intelligence community attorney, Lawfare executive editor and CNN legal analyst Susan Hennessey commented. “Barr has been relying on completely implausible deniability about what he is doing and why at the Justice Department to keep his ranks in line. President Trump once again said the quiet part out loud about what they were up too and now Barr’s got a revolt on his hands.”
Hennessey went on to say that the entire interview was simply an attempt to assuage the blowback from the Stone controversy.
“Now he thinks a little carefully staged PR pushback against Trump is going to restore the perceptions of legitimacy and DOJ independence. It won’t. The only thing that could possibly do that at this point is Barr’s resignation,” she wrote. “It won’t matter that this is completely transparent BS. These theatrics are designed to give Republican members of Congress something to wrap themselves in. And it’ll serve those purposes just fine.”
Chaired professor at New York University Law School and former Department of Defense attorney Ryan Goodman provided a similar take on the interview, saying it appeared to be entirely self-serving for Barr.
On #BillBarr's ABC News interview.
Shorter #Barr: Shush. We do this on the down low. You're making it impossible for me to pull of the job.
Also reminds me of this analysis by @nycsouthpaw:
"What Has Bill Barr Done to Earn the Benefit of the Doubt?"https://t.co/5iZGfFE7Ub
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 13, 2020
Former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli and Boston University School of Law professor Rebecca Ingber echoed that thought.
Barr's self-preservation and coverup tour https://t.co/oNgNhNTClm
— Richard Signorelli (@richsignorelli) February 13, 2020
The one silver lining in this Barr interview is the suggestion that at least Barr has the capacity to feel shame and doesn’t want to be *perceived as* politicizing DOJ. That interest in perception at least gives us *something* to work with.https://t.co/DtGMV8873q https://t.co/PNTecaD7wz
— Rebecca Ingber (@becingber) February 13, 2020
Some have suggested that Barr was doing this only stave off the threat of mass resignations. Still others said Barr could prove he was sincere by resigning, like the four prosecutors in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office did.
What could Attorney General Barr do to convince the American people that his criticism of Trump is sincere? Resign.
— Shanlon Wu (@shanlonwu) February 13, 2020
The criticism went on and on.
No. Bill Barr should not get the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't have to be told what to do in order to help Trump and his friends. If he really finds it "impossible" to do his job, he should resign. He should also defend his people. https://t.co/5ZeDUhhTO7
— Elizabeth de la Vega (@Delavegalaw) February 13, 2020
“If (Trump) were to say, ‘Go investigate somebody because'—and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then the AG shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out,” Barr said. How do you square that with the welcome mat given to the Giuliani opposition research?
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) February 13, 2020
A thought on how to maintain the appearance of independence and "assure the courts and the prosecutors in the dept that we're doing our work with integrity." Please, AG Barr. https://t.co/ZpA3smBQqG
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) February 13, 2020
Barr lied about Mueller Report. Barr blocked Mueller Report. Barr couldn’t answer @KamalaHarris’s questions. Barr didn’t keep Epstein alive. Barr shut down Trump investigations. Barr intervened for Stone.
If you’re DOJ and considering resigning, don’t believe a word he says. https://t.co/Up3aydtWzA
— Robert J. DeNault (@robertjdenault) February 13, 2020
Attorney General Barr:
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) February 13, 2020
Even Andrew Weissmann chimed in.
"People are heartbroken. This is an institution, just like what you're hearing about at the State Department, that people are just emotionally, very upset seeing the rule of law gutted." – former FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/mcdh0FmNSV
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) February 13, 2020
Trump is supposedly not upset about the Barr interview.
Trump is not upset with Barr after his comments to ABC, I’m told.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) February 13, 2020
The president and Barr have been criticized by District Attorneys, the New York City Bar Association and the American Bar Association over the past couple of days. Even the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in D.C., Beryl Howell, has issued a “rare statement.”
BREAKING Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington also issued a rare statement responding to President Trump’s attacks on Stone’s sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, and defending the integrity of the courts. https://t.co/LhicnjBjNx pic.twitter.com/MSiNthX3lS
— Spencer Hsu (@hsu_spencer) February 13, 2020
“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them’ the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said Thursday. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.”
Remarkably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has endorsed Barr’s rebuke of the president.
MITCH MCCONNELL on BILL BARR's tweeting comment:
“The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be the attorney general and I think the president should listen to his advice." pic.twitter.com/lGZxA6asnb
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) February 13, 2020
[image via ABC screengrab]