- Attorney General William Barr told ABC News in an exclusive interview that President Donald Trump has “never” asked him “to do anything in a criminal case.”
- He also said his main priority is ensuring that he and the DOJ remain free from political interference or pressure.
- His comments are intriguing, particularly given that Barr has repeatedly capitulated to Trump’s demands since taking over the top job at the DOJ as compared to his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, who shielded the Russia probe from political interference.
- The attorney general has a long record of intervening in legal matters of interest to Trump and of parroting Trump’s conspiratorial language targeting his perceived political foes. Barr has also said he and Trump meet several times per week.
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Attorney General William Barr told ABC News in an exclusive interview that President Donald Trump has “never” asked him “to do anything in a criminal case.”
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr told the outlet. “I’m going to do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
He was referring in part to Trump’s tweets, which frequently demand that the Justice Department show leniency toward his associates and crack down on his perceived political enemies.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said, because they “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Most recently, Barr and senior leadership overrode the sentencing recommendation that career prosecutors handling the federal case against Trump’s associate, Roger Stone, made to a court this week.
Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison after he was convicted of seven felony counts of obstruction, witness tampering, and false statements.
Shortly after prosecutors filed their recommendation, Trump took to Twitter to say it was “horrible and unfair” and a “miscarriage of justice.” The tweet was one of several in which Trump praised Stone, attacked the judge and prosecutors handling the case, and called for leniency toward the former GOP strategist.
Hours later, senior DOJ officials overruled the prosecutors, said the initial recommendation was “extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offences,” and recommended a lower sentence.
The next day, Trump congratulated Barr for the decision.
“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 president tweeted.
The series of events alarmed law enforcement veterans, some of whom told Insider they couldn’t “recall a worse day” for the DOJ.
But Barr told ABC News that he had already decided to ask for a lesser sentence in Stone’s case before Trump blasted out his tweet calling the initial recommendation “horrible and unfair,” and that the president’s public comments put him in a tough spot.
“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 told ABC News.
The attorney general also stressed that his main responsibility is making sure the DOJ is free from political interference.
“And I have done that, and I will continue to do that,” Barr said.
Meeting Trump’s demands
His comments are intriguing, particularly given that Barr has repeatedly capitulated to Trump’s demands since taking over the top job at the DOJ as compared to his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, who shielded the Russia probe from political interference.
Earlier this week, Barr announced that the DOJ was setting up an “intake process” to vet the information that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, collects from Ukraine against former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s 2020 Democratic rivals.
- Media reports have said Trump privately urged Giuliani to keep digging for dirt on Biden and pass it to the DOJ. And during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump repeatedly pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to work with both Barr and Giuliani to investigate the Bidens over bogus allegations of corruption.
Last month, according to NBC News, senior DOJ officials intervened in the government’s case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but has since tried to retract his plea and taken a more combative stance toward prosecutors.
- While prosecutors initially recommended up to six months in prison for Flynn, senior officials interjected and revised the recommendation to request no more than probation for the former national security adviser.
- Last year, Barr inserted himself into the FBI’s Russia investigation to clear Trump of obstruction of justice, despite the fact that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team specified that if they had confidence the president did not commit a crime, they would have said so.
- Perhaps most notably, Barr is personally overseeing an internal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe after Trump repeatedly demanded that his DOJ “investigate the investigators.”
- The attorney general has also publicly parroted the conspiratorial language Trump uses to refer to the career officials who oversaw the Russia probe. Last year, Barr accused the FBI of “spying” on the Trump campaign, despite the fact that the DOJ inspector general found no evidence to support the conspiracy theory, dubbed “Spygate,” that Trump originated.
- Barr also went out of his way to insist that there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, even though “collusion” is not a legal term.
But the attorney general insisted on Thursday that he is not at the president’s beck and call.
“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,” Barr said.