President Donald Trump on Tuesday defied Attorney General William Barr’s request that he stop tweeting about federal judges presiding over Department of Justice cases, sending a tweet critical of U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The latest Trumpian salvo left attorneys and political experts wondering whether Barr was sincere in his latest ABC News interview–and would consider resigning in protest–or whether the whole thing really was “absolutely nonsense theatrics.”
Trump tweeted a quote from Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano defending his longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone, saying the recently convicted felon deserves a new trial because one of the jurors did not like President Trump. Napolitano’s comments are also implicitly critiquing Judge Jackson as someone who may not do the “right thing,” despite little legal support for Stone being deserving of a new trial.
“Judge Jackson now has a request for a new trial based on the unambiguous & self outed bias of the foreperson of the jury, whose also a lawyer, by the way. ‘Madam foreperson, your a lawyer, you have a duty, an affirmative obligation, to reveal to us when we selected you the…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2020
…..existence of these tweets in which you were so harshly negative about the President & the people who support him. Don’t you think we wanted to know that before we put you on this jury.’ Pretty obvious he should (get a new trial). I think almost any judge in the Country…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2020
Less than a week ago, Barr told ABC News the following [emphasis ours]:
And I’m happy to say that, in fact the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case. 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.
MSNBC contributor, former federal prosecutor and University of Alabama law professor Joyce Vance White immediately responded to Trump’s tweet, calling on Barr to do more or else be complicit in the president’s efforts to politicize the Justice Department.
“This can’t stand. And any Attorney General who is complicit in this, supporting this President by refusing to correct him (asking him not to tweet doesn’t qualify) isn’t fit to serve,” she wrote. “Since the President won’t fire Barr, the people will have to.”
This can’t stand. And any Attorney General who is complicit in this, supporting this President by refusing to correct him (asking him not to tweet doesn’t qualify) isn’t fit to serve. Since the President won’t fire Barr, the people will have to. https://t.co/4O00trDCE8
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) February 18, 2020
Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General and Supreme Court litigator Neal Katyal suggested that if Barr was sincere in his comments he would summarily resign from his post.
“Trump tweeting about judges again in pending criminal matters. If Barr meant what he said last week, I would think there is only one response,” he said.
Trump tweeting about judges again in pending criminal mattters. If Barr meant what he said last week, I would think there is only one response. https://t.co/x2kXrfUkel
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) February 18, 2020
Former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said enough is enough.
Ok, Mr. Attorney General. You talked big last week about how the President made it “impossible” for you to do your job if he kept tweeting about specific cases. What’ll you do now? Stand up against this? Resign? Or ignore it and keep doing what you’re doing? Are you all talk? https://t.co/dDbmFrJ8bq
— Elie Honig (@eliehonig) February 18, 2020
That sentiment was echoed by NBC News national security and intelligence correspondent Ken Dilanian.
“Will he resign today?” he asked.
AG Barr said these kinds of tweets make it impossible for him to do his job. Will he resign today? https://t.co/NPvf3YC7ZY
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) February 18, 2020
Others suggested that Trump was intentionally turning up the heat to induce Barr’s resignation, though many were not at all convinced by that take.
??? No, it has the aim of demonstrating that Trump is in control, and that his lackey is so loyal he WON’T resign even as he makes the AG look like a fool for suggesting that he operates independently of the President.
Have we learned nothing about how Trump operates? https://t.co/DcAIoTYaUw
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) February 18, 2020
Why would Trump want Barr to resign? You wrote that an acting would be more pliable, but Trump got much more out of Barr than he did out of Matt Whitaker, who seems to have stayed hands-off.
— Eric Columbus (@EricColumbus) February 18, 2020
I disagree. He doesn't think Barr will resign.
Barr can't be seen to question or criticize him. So he's loudly & publicly doing exactly what Barr told him not to so that everyone watching will see Barr do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT, thus reestablishing him as the Alpha Male.
— National Security Counselors (@NatlSecCnslrs) February 18, 2020
Even conservative attorney and National Review contributor Ed Whelan condemned the president’s tweet, simply telling him to “STOP IT!”
STOP IT! https://t.co/Uj3bKDympZ
— Ed Whelan (@EdWhelanEPPC) February 18, 2020
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]