Attorney General Bill Barr has admonished President Trump to stop commenting on criminal cases – saying it ‘undercuts’ his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
‘I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,’ Barr said in an extraordinary interview with ABC News.
Speaking in blunt language, Barr, who previously held the same position under President George H.W. Bush, said: ‘I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.’
Barr’s pushback comes after the Trump loyalist has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee as some Democrats renew calls for his impeachment.
It also follows powerful Democrats including Rep. Adam Schiff accusing the president of violating the ‘rule of law’ be interfering in a system of justice that is meant to be non-political – and one saying Congress would have to consider impeaching him again.
The crisis unfolded ahead of the scheduled sentencing next week of Roger Stone, the former Trump consiglierie who was found guilty of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Trump tweeted his fury at a demand Stone be jailed for up to nine years, a message followed hours later by anonymous senior Justice Department officials calling it ‘excessive’ and all four prosecutors on the case quitting later that day, with Democrats calling for an urgent investigation into whether Trump intervened in a live criminal case.
Now Barr has both denied being influenced, and called for the president to stop tweeting.
‘I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,’ Barr told ABC News in an interview.
‘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 said.
Barr made his extraordinary comments to ABC news amid a furor over Trump’s intervention in the criminal case of Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, when he was an informal Trump advisor
Make it stop: How three days of tweets by Donald Trump aimed at Bill Barr, his prosecutors and a member of the federal judiciary stacked up
He said ‘of course’ he was prepared for the consequences of criticizing the president. Trump spent months ridiculing former attorney general Jeff Sessions for his failure to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Barr said his actions in the case of the Roger Stone case had ‘nothing to do with the president,’ as the network put it.
After career prosecutors called for a sentence of seven to nine years in prison for Stone following his conviction, Trump blasted the move online.
‘Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!’ Trump wrote.
Stone was convicted of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, when he was an informal Trump advisor. Democrats say it was part of a ‘coverup’ to protect Trump.
Barr said it would be ‘preposterous’ to suggest he ‘intervened’ in the case, and DOJ has said previously this week that the timing was coincidental. Trump, however, has kept up a string of stinging commentary about the case.
BILL BARR: TRUMP’S LIGHTNING ROD
Clashing in public with the president caps a year minus one day as attorney general for Bill Barr – he was confirmed by the Senate on February 14 2019.
But mostly the clashes have been the other way with Barr positioning himself as a stout defender of the president, a man who has asked before: ‘Where’s my Roy Cohn?’ in reference to his one-time personal attorney, the infamous McCarthy interrogator-turned New York-legal-enforcer.
He refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller inquiry, then provided a summary of its findings weeks before its publication, which said that Mueller had not established collusion between Trump and Russia – but which the Special Counsel wrote to Barr to complain ‘inadequately portrayed’ his conclusions and warned people were confused about what he had really found. Barr later denied it was a summary.
On the day of Mueller’s publication he held his own press conference before anyone had read it
In April, he said he believed ‘spying did occur’ on the Trump campaign then defended the use of the word when the FBI denied it had spied. Then he announced a probe into the origins of the Russia investigation in the first place which remains ongoing, elevating it to a criminal investigation in October. He later called the Russia investigation ‘completely baseless’ despite the investigation not being over.
And he contradicted the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that the Russia probe was not based on political bias, but offered no evidence it was.
Other controversies have included his attacks on sanctuary cities, and one on ‘militant secularists’ in a speech at Notre Dame University which claimed they were running a ‘campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.’
Barr has tried to bring back the federal death penalty, backs a federal marijuana ban, and put the Justice Department’s weight behind a case which critics say would gut Obamacare.
Trump on Thursday said the juror Roger Stone’s jury had ‘significant bias’ in his latest intervention into the criminal trial of his longtime advisor.
Barr says he already had spoken to staff about the Stone sentencing recommendation – which he indicated was too severe – before the president’s early morning tweet. But the public blast put him in a bad position.
‘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 fretted.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded that Trump was fine with the comments – while defending his right to speak his mind.
‘The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions,’ she said.
‘President Trump uses social media very effectively to fight for the American people against injustices in our country, including the fake news. The President has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law,’ she said, CBS reported.
Four career prosecutors asked to be removed from the case immediately afterward. Barr downplayed the revolt, saying he was ‘a little surprised’ to learn they had left. He said he had not spoken with the prosecutors beforehand.
Trump weighed in again with interviewer Geraldo Rivera on Thursday – this time disputing that the career prosecutors left in protest.
‘What they did to Roger Stone was a disgrace,’ Trump said in an interview that aired on Newsradio WTAM1100.
‘I don’t think they quit the case. I think they felt they got caught,’ he said. ‘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.
When asked directly if he had a problem with the president’s tweets, Barr responded, ‘Yes. Well, I have a problem with some of, some of the tweets. As I said at my confirmation hearing, I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process sacrosanct to make sure there is no political interference in it.’
‘And I have done that and I will continue to do that,’ he said. ‘And I’m happy to say that, in fact the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,’ Barr said.
Barr has traveled to Europe in connection to an investigation into the roots of the Russia probe, and tasked a career prosecutor with looking at any FBI misconduct – in a probe that puts Trump investigators on the defensive.
In his morning intervention, Trump jumped on revelations that the foreperson, who represents the jury during communications with the judge during a trial, had run for Congress as a Democrat, Tweeted about Stone’s arrest, and posed with prominent Democrats.
The foreperson, Tomeka Hart, revealed her identity in a Facebook post where she defended the federal prosecutors who handled the case – after Trump publicly attacked them this week.
The president tweeted Thursday, amid an uproar in Congress over his interventions in Stone’s case: ‘Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department. @foxandfriends @FoxNews,’ he wrote.
Trump’s blast came after he went after the judge overseeing Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, in an early morning tweet Tuesday.
‘Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?’ Trump wrote. ‘How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!’
President Donald Trump jumped on revelations that the foreperson in Roger Stone’s trial had run for Congress as a Democrat and tweeted about Stone’s arrest. Stone has been an informal Trump advisor for decades. He was convicted on seven counts including witness tampering and lying to Congress
He also blasted the sentence of up to nine years recommended by a team of federal prosecutors – an action that preceded the Justice Department’s extraordinary turnaround and filing of a new sentencing memo to the judge that made no recommendation of jail time.
Following the turnaround, four career prosecutors had themselves removed from the case, and one left his position entirely.
Hart wrote that she decided to end her ‘silence’ on the case to ‘stand up’ for the four prosecutors, whose decision to withdraw was taken as an obvious protest.
Amid the uproar and Democrats saying President Trump is acting against the rule of law following his acquittal of impeachment articles in the Senate, Attorney General Bill Barr has agreed to testify next month before the House Judiciary Committee, breaking a year-long absence.
Tomeka Hart revealed on Wednesday that she was foreperson on the Roger Stone jury
Trump’s dig on the Justice Department – putting its name in quotes – came a day after he saluted the agency for reversing itself following his complaints.
‘The fact is that Roger Stone was treated horribly and so were many other people, their lives were destroyed,’ Trump fumed in the Oval Office alongside the president of Ecuador.
‘You have murderers and drug addicts – they don’t get nine years. Nine years for doing something that no one can even define what he did. Somebody said he put out a tweet. And the tweet, you base it on that. We have killers, we have murderers all over the place, nothing happens. And then they put a man in jail and destroy his life, his family, his wife, his children. Nine years in jail it’s a disgrace.’
Stone was convicted on seven counts including witness tampering and lying to Congress.
Earlier, Trump lauded Bill Barr for ‘taking charge’ of Stone’s case.
He denied speaking to the Justice Department, although he added: ‘I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe.’
‘But I didn’t speak to them. I thought the (original) recommendation was ridiculous, I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,’ Trump vented.
Trump’s latest move comes after Hart was revealed to be a failed Democrat candidate for Congress and activist vehemently opposed to President Donald Trump.
Hart, a former Memphis City Schools Board President, came forward as the Stone jury foreperson in a Facebook post on Wednesday, voicing support for prosecutors in the case.
Hart confirmed to The Daily Memphian that she wrote the Facebook post, but she declined an interview with the newspaper.
Stone supporters were shocked when a review of Hart’s social media posts showed that she posted on Twitter mocking Stone’s dramatic arrest prior to being seated on the jury, and frequently denounced Trump, including calling the president and his supporters racists.
It’s unclear whether Stone’s political views and social media history were disclosed during jury selection, potentially raising questions about fairness that could impact the verdict on appeal.
Hart (left) is seen with former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile
Hart retweeted a post about Stone’s arrest in January 2019, months before the trial
Hart came forward amid controversy over Stone’s sentencing, after the four prosecutors on the case withdrew in response to Trump criticizing the government’s recommendation that Stone be sentenced to nine years in prison.
Trump has said that the prosecution of his former campaign advisor Stone prosecution for obstruction, false statements, and witness tampering was handled in a manner that was ‘ridiculous’ and an ‘insult to our country.’
‘I have kept my silence for months. Initially, it was for my safety. Then, I decided to remain silent out of fear of politicizing the matter,’ Hart said in her Facebook post on Wednesday.
‘But I can’t keep quiet any longer. I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis – the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,’ Hart wrote, referring to the prosecutors who resigned in protest.
‘It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice. For that, I wanted to speak up for them and ask you to join me in thanking them for their service,’ she said.
Hart unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2012, and is an activist who has participated in anti-Trump rallies and protests