Attorney General Bill Barr pushed back Thursday against President Donald Trump’s barrage of attacks on the Department of Justice following its sentencing debacle in the case of longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, who was convicted by a jury of seven felonies. During an interview with ABC News, Barr said Trump’s remarks make it “impossible for me to do my job.” Trump has repeatedly tweeted his displeasure, first, with the length of Stone’s sentence, before pivoting to undermining the trial and the Department of Justice writ large.
Trump publicly meddling in the legal proceedings of friends and allies is pretty standard at this point, but the reversal of the prosecutors’ recommended sentence following the president’s tweeted rebuke crossed yet another line, putting Trump’s potential to exert influence over the DOJ in vastly new territory. Barr has, for his part, aligned his legal ideology with Trump’s self-belief in the all-encompassing nature of unencumbered executive power. The attorney general now, however, seems to be peeved that Trump is doing what he always does: undermine any semblance of impartial, ethical behavior to sweep away markers of his own unethical behavior. “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said, saying that such statements “about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, 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 and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
During his brief tenure at the DOJ, Barr has provided broad legal cover for Trump, whether on his actions in Ukraine or in relation to Russia investigation. Facing what appears to be a growing mutiny at the Justice Department, Barr now wants to remind everyone he is an independent thinker and actor, able and willing to stand up to the president. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “I’m gonna 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.”
Given Barr’s recent history, what he’s really saying to Trump is: stop undermining my ability to quietly do your bidding with no one watching.