Attorney General William Barr on Thursday issued a rare criticism of President Donald Trump, telling ABC News that the president’s tweets about Justice Department matters “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
“Public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity,” Barr told ABC.
Barr’s comments came days after the department overruled federal prosecutors in Roger Stone’s criminal case, a decision that resulted in all four prosecutors quitting the case.
The prosecutors had on Monday recommended Stone get 7 to 9 years of prison time, a decision Trump lambasted on Twitter as “disgraceful” overnight.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” the president wrote in a follow-up post on Twitter. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Barr told ABC he and his staff had decided to recommend a lower sentence before Trump tweeted because they thought the recommended sentence was too long — but the president’s criticism put them 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 said.
Barr also told the network he was “a little surprised” the prosecution team withdrew from the case.
Trump praised Barr for the lower recommended sentence on Wednesday, tweeting, “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.”
Trump has also mocked the original prosecutors in the case and even tweeted criticism of the judge presiding over the case.
Barr told ABC, “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.”
Sources told NBC News earlier this week that Barr has made several moves in recent weeks to take control of legal matters of personal interest to the president.
Those include removing the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. and replacing with her a Barr pick and recommending a lighter sentence for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
He also said on Monday that the department had “established an intake process” for vetting information from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and Ukraine.
Barr insisted that Trump has not tried to interfere in Justice Department cases.
“I’m happy to say that in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” he said.
“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. “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.”
Barr, who has long held a broad view of the powers of the presidency, has had a much warmer relationship with Trump than the president had with his predecessor, Jeff Sessions. Trump repeatedly slammed Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr told NBC News in December that he believes the FBI may have operated out of “bad faith” when it investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. He’s also been personally involved with an ongoing probe the Russia investigation being led by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, Barr’s handpicked choice.