Attorney General William Barr went into serious damage control mode on Thursday evening. Despite that, President Donald Trump went back to the well on Friday morning.
In case you missed it, Barr denied that Trump has ever asked him to do anything in a criminal case, he took full responsibility for the controversial Roger Stone sentencing recommendation reversal, and he also said that the president’s tweets about criminal matters were making his job “impossible” to do. “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said. But ultimately, this was Barr saying “blame me” and bailing out the president.
The overwhelming suspicion amid the resignation of four prosecutors on the Stone case was that the Justice Department was directly catering to the whims and wails of a president upset about what was happening to a longtime friend. Barr claimed that wasn’t the case, saying he never talked to the White House about the sentencing recommendation and that no one from the White House called in an attempt to influence his decision-making. That’s why Trump’s “miscarriage of justice” tweet was so disruptive, Barr said.
But it didn’t take long for Trump to react by tweet once again. Notably, Trump essentially repeated the key Barr claim that he has never asked the attorney general do anything in a criminal case. As he did so, he asserted his “legal right” to encroach on the independence of the Department of Justice.
“The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2020
“‘The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.’ A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!” Trump said.
We know that Barr has an expansive view of presidential authority, so maybe he would be inclined to agree with what Trump is saying while also thinking it improper. Barr told ABC News that “If [Trump] were to say, ‘Go investigate somebody because’—and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then the attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out.”
It should be noted that Barr has created a channel for the DOJ to receive and evaluate political corruption dirt Rudy Giuliani has dug up on the president’s behalf. It should also be noted that Barr appointed John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. The Durham investigation is now a criminal probe.
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that Trump has “become more insistent” that Durham’s criminal probe wrap up soon so that the findings can be used for his political gain:
Separately, Barr tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether any crimes were committed by FBI and CIA officials in the pursuit of allegations in 2016 that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump’s campaign.
After learning that the Huber investigation is not likely to produce charges, Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon, according to people familiar with the discussions. Trump, these people said, wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign.
[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]