Barr takes is­sue with pres­i­dent’s re­cent tweets

AG says com­ments ‘make it im­pos­si­ble for me to do my job’

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Bal­samo and Zeke Miller

WASH­ING­TON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr took a pub­lic swipe at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day, declar­ing the pres­i­dent’s tweets about Jus­tice De­part­ment prose­cu­tors and open 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 re­ver­sal, and Thurs­day’s comment served as a de­fense of his own in­tegrity. He is a Trump loy­al­ist who shares the pres­i­dent’s views on ex­pan­sive ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers.

The re­marks, made so quickly af­ter the de­ci­sion to back away from the sentencing, sug­gested Barr was aware the re­ver­sal had chipped away at the de­part­ment’s his­toric rep­u­ta­tion for independen­ce from po­lit­i­cal sway. But he stopped short of ac­knowl­edg­ing wrong­do­ing by any­one.

White House press sec­re­tary Stephanie Gr­isham said Trump “wasn’t both­ered by the com­ments at all and he has the right,

just like any Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen, to pub­licly offer his opin­ions.” She added, “The pres­i­dent has full faith and con­fi­dence in At­tor­ney Gen­eral Barr to do his job and uphold the law.”

Barr said 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.

Barr joined a ros­ter of high-level aides who have pub­licly crit­i­cized Trump, with the key difference that he is still in his job. For­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton is to pub­lish a book next month de­tail­ing his time in the White House in­clud­ing crit­i­cism of Trump ac­tions such as his de­ci­sion to with­hold mil­i­tary as­sis­tance while seek­ing a po­lit­i­cal fa­vor from Ukraine. For­mer chief of staff John Kelly, who has largely kept a low pro­file since leav­ing the White House, has grown more open about his un­flat­ter­ing as­sess­ments of the pres­i­dent.

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 ABCin­ter­view. “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 we­have 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 Trump­cam­paign co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia to tip the 2016 elec­tion. He’s sched­uled to be sen­tenced next week.

Barr said he was “of course” pre­pared to deal with any ram­i­fi­ca­tions from the pres­i­dent for his com­ments. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said se­nior White House aides were not in­formed of the con­tents of Barr’s in­ter­view be­fore it aired.

“As I said dur­ing my confirmati­on, I came in to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral. I am re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing that hap­pens in the de­part­ment, but the thing I have most re­spon­si­bil­ity for are the is­sues that are brought to me for de­ci­sion,” Barr said in the in­ter­view.

It is ex­tremely rare for Jus­tice De­part­ment lead­ers to re­verse the de­ci­sion of prose­cu­tors on a sentencing rec­om­men­da­tion, par­tic­u­larly af­ter that rec­om­men­da­tion has been sub­mit­ted to the court.

“What they did to Roger Stone was a disgrace,” Trump said Thurs­day dur­ing an in­ter­view with Ger­aldo Rivera on News­ra­dio WTAM1100.

He said of the prose­cu­tors who re­signed in protest, “I don’t think they quit the case. I don’t think they quit for moral rea­sons. I think they got caught in the act by me.”

“Now what am I going to do, sit back and let a man go to jail maybe for nine years when mur­der­ers aren’t going to jail? You have some of the most se­ri­ous, hor­ri­ble rapists and ev­ery­thing else. They don’t go to jail for nine years,” Trump said.

In the ABC in­ter­view, Barr said of the pres­i­dent, “If he 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.”

ALEX BRAN­DON/AP 2019

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr, left, crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day dur­ing an in­ter­view with ABC News for tweet­ing about Jus­tice De­part­ment prose­cu­tors and cases.

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