Attorney General William Barr on Thursday said President Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job,” delivering a rare pushback against Mr. Trump amid the fallout of the Roger Stone case.
“I think it’s time to stop tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Mr. Barr told ABC News. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president.”
Mr. Barr stressed, however, that the president never asked him to interfere in the criminal case against Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump.
It is the first time Mr. Barr has spoken on the subject publicly since the firestorm over his decision to intervene and reduce the prosecutors’ recommended jail time for Stone’s Feb. 20 sentencing in Washington.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday recommended Stone spend between seven and nine years in prison. The stiff sentence was the maximum a federal judge could impose on Stone under federal sentencing guidelines. Stone was convicted in November of lying to Congress, obstructing justice and witness tampering to thwart probes into the purported Trump-Russia collusion in 2016.
Mr. Barr said that nearly a decade in prison was excessive but he still felt boxed in by the president’s tweet blasting the Stone prosecution.
“Once the tweet occurred, now what do I do?” he said. “Do I go forward with what you think the right decision is, or do you pull back because of the tweets?”
Mr. Barr went forward with a new recommendation for a more lenient penalty.
Outraged Democrats accused Mr. Barr of doing political favors for the president, and some have raised the prospect of impeaching Mr. Barr or a second effort to remove Mr. Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr. Barr’s involvement in the case “deeply damaged” the justice system, but said Congress should not take formal action against him.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re going to spend all of our time going after every lie that the administration henchmen make to the Congressof the United States,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Democrats were making far too big of a deal of the Stone case.
Mr. Barr was adamant that he was not pressured by the president to intervene in the case and said he supported Stone’s conviction.
“I have not discussed the Roger Stone case at the White House,” he said, calling allegations that he interfered in the case “preposterous.”
Mr. Barr said he was blindsided by the decision to recommend up to nine years imprisonment though, saying he thought there should have been more flexibility. He expected prosecutors would defer to the judge but point out “various factors and circumstances” that could result in a less harsh sentence.
“When I first saw the news reports, I said, ‘Gee, the news is spinning this. This is not what we’re going to do,'” he said. “I was very surprised.”
If Mr. Trump ever asked him to use his power for a political goal, he would object, the attorney general said.
“If (the president) were to say ‘Go investigate somebody’ — 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,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, praised for the attorney general’s comments.
“He is the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the rule of law,” the South Carolina Republican said. “Attorney General Barr has my complete confidence.”
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