Attorney General William Barr with Donald Trump (Tia Dufour/White House)
Attorney General William Barr protects himself by criticizing Donald Trump, over Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to ensure a light prison sentence for his friend, “dirty tricks” aide, and Trump-Russia operative Roger Stone.
But Barr, Trump’s essential protector since being appointed in January 2019, is careful not to come down too hard on his boss. The Attorney General says his intervention, overruling four prosecutors who recommended a sentence of 7 to 9 years for Stone, was justified.
On Tuesday after a Trump tweets — “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” — senior Justice Department officials, including Barr’s longtime aide Timothy Shea, issued a new court filing setting no time for any prison sentence. Three of the prosecutors withdrew from the case; one resigned from the Justice Department entirely.
Stone was convicted in November of lying to Congress and witness tampering. He was the Trump campaign’s link in 2016 with WikiLeaks when the organization published e-mails stolen by Russia to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Impossible for Me to Do My Job”
Since Tuesday, Barr has been under intense pressure from legislators over his implementation of Trump’s command, despite denials by both the Justice Department and White House of any intervention by Trump to protect Stone.
He has also faced a possible rebellion within the Justice Department after the withdrawal of the prosecutors from the case. Anger and concern had already been stoked by Barr’s burial of the Trump-Russia inquiry, including the Mueller Report, to ensure no political damage to Trump.
The Attorney General finally said yesterday, in an interview with ABC News that Trump’s messages “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. It’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.”
Barr tried to declare his independence:
Whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president, I’m going to do what I think is right. I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.
A “person familiar with his thinking” said Barr decided to comment because of Trump’s ongoing attacks against judicial officials and law enforcement.
Emboldened by Tuesday’s events — including the ongoing burial of his campaign links with Russia — Trump has crowed about the prosecutors “who cut and ran after being exposed for recommending a ridiculous 9-year prison sentence”. He has attacked Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who may still impose a lengthy prison sentence on Stone.
The inside source, who spoke to the New York Times, confirmed that Barr is also concerned about revolt among Justice Department personnel.
Trump did not respond but the White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all, and he has the right, just like every American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions.”
In a sign that Barr’s tactical move was acceptable to Trump, she said he has confidence in his Attorney General.
But Fox TV commentators, who often shape Trump’s reactions, blasted Barr.
Lou Dobbs thundered, “I am so disappointed in Bill Barr,” a day after praising the Attorney General for “doing the Lord’s work” by intervening in the Stone case.
On the other hand, senior Republican senators — only a week after shutting down Trump’s impeachment trial over abuse of power — supported Barr’s comments.
If the Attorney General says it’s getting in the way of doing his job, maybe the President should listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox TV.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of Trump and the chair of the Judiciary Committee, who is close to the president, said Barr is “the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the rule of law”.