Attorney General William P. Barr offered his first public comments Thursday after a controversy erupted at the Justice Department this week. And while he offered a significant rebuke of President Trump, Barr’s comments seem as much geared toward creating a veneer of independence as addressing the root of the controversy.
Barr told ABC News that Trump’s tweets about ongoing criminal matters — in this case, Roger Stone’s — “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said.
Barr clarified that it was Monday night that he made the controversial decision to overrule career prosecutors’ recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison — before Trump tweeted in the wee hours of Tuesday morning in opposition to the recommendation.
“Do you go forward with what you think is the right decision, or do you pull back because of the tweet?” Barr said. “And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be.”
Barr is right that this is exactly why presidents are generally cautious about weighing in on ongoing criminal matters. If the president does that, how can you discern what is truly independent from what is being done in response to presidential pressure? Barr’s comments were also stronger, notably, than those by some Republican members of Congress who essentially shrugged at the entire situation.
But it’s also important to recognize how much Barr gains by being seen as rebuking Trump — and how much his answers don’t really address the true controversy here.
The fact is that, even if Barr made this decision before Trump’s tweets and Trump never directly requested the action — even if there is no relation between what happened and what Trump has said — this is still highly problematic. It’s the president’s most senior political appointee in the Justice Department personally intervening in an unorthodox manner in the case of perhaps Trump’s longest-serving political ally. It’s precisely the kind of case in which you would want to make sure you try doubly hard to avoid even the appearance of political influence of any kind — whether that influence emanated from Trump or not. Instead, Barr decided this was a situation he needed to get involved in. [Continue reading…]