Attorney General William Barr granted an exclusive interview to ABC News on Wednesday to discuss the controversial overruling of Roger Stone’s sentencing. The decision was seen by many to be influenced by Donald Trump, as Stone is a close friend of the president. While the attorney general maintained that his decision regarding Stone was unimpeded by Trump, he did express frustration at the president’s tweeting.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said, speaking to ABC News chief justice correspondent, Pierre Thomas.
White House senior staff, including the president, were unaware of the interview, ABC News reports. Barr attempted to set the record straight about what exactly occurred with the Stone sentencing. According to the attorney general, he had decided to reduce the recommendation before Trump even tweeted about the situation, stating he had already discussed with staff that he felt the sentencing was too long. When he woke up the next morning to Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet, Barr said he was put 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,” Barr explained.
He went on to say he was “a little surprised” at the resignation and withdrawal of the prosecution team. He mentioned he hadn’t spoken to them yet, but he did maintain that it was “preposterous” that he’d intervene in a Department of Justice case for any reason except a legal one.
While Trump seems pleased with Barr’s actions regarding the Stone case, the attorney general’s frustrations about the president’s tweets are somewhat of a break between the two men. Barr has been one of Trump’s most staunch supporters. However, he seems to understand the need to separate the Department of Justice from political influence.
“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,” Barr said,
He continued, telling Thomas that Trump had never asked him to influence a criminal case and that he wouldn’t do so, even if asked.
“If [Trump] were to say, ‘Go investigate somebody because’—and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then the attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out,” Barr said. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody… whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president.”
Thomas then asked Barr if he thought Trump would respond to their interview, to which the attorney general responded he hoped the president would. Barr also stated he hoped the president would respect his position as the head of the Justice Department.
Trump hasn’t had a very solid relationship with the legal part of the executive branch, however. After Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in 2018, Trump forced his first attorney general to resign. He also had a contentious relationship with his former FBI Director, James Comey. According to a memo the former director wrote at the time, Trump asked him to investigate former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, which Comey refused to do.
The perceived influence Trump has over the Justice Department has led to calls for a second impeachment hearing into the president’s actions, this time focusing on his relationship with the Department of Justice and his undue requests for political favors.