U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr said President Trump’s tweets and public comments about the Justice Department and ongoing cases make his job “impossible.”
“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,” Barr said in an interview with ABC News on Thursday.
“It’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr added, in what amounted to a rare public rebuke of the president by one of his most trusted Cabinet members.
Barr spoke publicly for the first time since his department was thrust into a crisis when it reversed course this week on a recommendation about how long Roger Stone, one of Trump’s longtime associates, should go to prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress.
The move prompted four career prosecutors to quit the case but earned Barr praise from Trump, fueling criticism that the Justice Department has become politicized and is more focused on protecting the president’s political allies than maintaining independence.
“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,” Trump tweeted after the new recommendation was made.
On Monday, the prosecutors had asked the judge overseeing the case to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison. The next day, after the president had tweeted his opposition to the recommendation, the department switched gears and said that Stone should serve three to four years. The department also called on the judge in the case to account for the 67-year-old Stone’s “advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history.”
The attorney general said he’d already decided to reduce the recommended sentence that was filed by prosecutors on Monday but then had to consider the effect of Trump appearing to dictate to the department.
“Do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be,” he said, ABC reported on its website.
Stone is due to be sentenced on Feb. 20. Barr said he’s “not a fan of Roger Stone, but he’s entitled” to the “careful application of the law to his case.”
The change to the sentencing recommendation was the second politically charged move revealed by Barr’s department this week.
On Monday, Barr said he had created a special channel for Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to share his “findings” on former Vice President Joe Biden’s connections to Ukraine — an issue that played a central role in Trump’s impeachment and trial.
Separately, the top law enforcement agency is also considering leniency in the sentencing of another former Trump confident, Michael Flynn, who resigned as the president’s first national security adviser after three weeks in the job.