US Attorney General William Barr publicly swiped 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 7 to 9 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. Still, it was a highly unusual move for a member of the Cabinet to criticize the president — especially a Trump loyalist who shares the president’s views on expansive executive powers.
Thursday’s comment served as a defense of his own integrity — an effort to salvage his own reputation and that of the Department of Justice by publicly rebuking the president he’s propped up from Day One of his tenure.
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.”
But Trump has a low tolerance for criticism, especially public criticism, from his allies and often fires back in kind. And the tempered White House response raised questions of whether Barr’s comments were coordinated with the White House.
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, thought the rest left the job first. 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: “Co