Attorney General William Barr said that Donald Trump’s tweets about Justice Department criminal cases “make it impossible for me to do my job,” a rare criticism of the president coming from a sitting cabinet secretary.
ABC News and Thomas, landed the first sitdown interview with Barr since the furor over the Justice Department decision to reverse itself on a sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, the former Trump associate who was convicted on seven counts of witness tampering and lying to investigators last year.
The network and its streaming channel, ABC News Live, aired a special report on the interview at 4 p.m. ET. More of the interview will air on Thursday on World News Tonight With David Muir and then on ABC News Live.
On Monday, the federal prosecution team on the Stone case recommended to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that he receive of sentence of seven to nine years in prison, in line with federal sentencing guidelines.
Early on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that federal prosecutors’ recommendation for Stone was a “horrible and very unfair situation.”
Then, later in the day, DOJ officials overruled the prosecution team’s recommendation and told the judge that length of sentence would not be appropriate.
That set off a furor among Democrats on Capitol Hill and among career officials who decried Barr for seemingly doing the president’s bidding. The prosecution team on the Stone case resigned, and there were reports that other career prosecutors also were considering it.
But in the ABC News interview, Barr said that he was “surprised” at the recommendation and told his staff on Monday night that they should amend the sentencing recommendation. He said that the situation was then complicated by the president’s tweets.
“I am happy to say that in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr told Thomas. “However, to have 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 prosecutors in the department that we are doing our work with integrity.”
Since his initial tweets, Trump has also attacked Jackson and about one of the jurors in the Stone case.
On Wednesday, he tweeted about the DOJ reversal on Stone’s sentencing, “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. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”
Barr told Thomas that he is prepared for ramifications for speaking out about Trump’s tweeting. “I am not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody, whether it is Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president. I am going to do what I think is right. I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
Stone’s case also has sparked call from commentators on the right for him to be pardoned or his eventual sentence commuted. Tucker Carlson said on his Fox News show on Wednesday that Stone’s prosecution was “a pure political hit. Roger Stone is facing prison because he’s a high-profile Donald Trump supporter. It’s that simple.
CNN and other outlets reported that Barr’s criticism didn’t bother Trump, something that some commentators took as merely a way to tamp down on the backlash over the sentencing recommendation.
“This is a ruse,” Neera Tanden of the progressive Center for American Progress wrote on Twitter. “Barr is doing Trump’s bidding. He just wants to look like he’s not. Because that makes it easier to do Trump’s bidding.”
Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote, “Slow your roll if you think Barr is breaking from Trump. This was a carefully staged message to cool down pissed off DOJ attys whom Barr undercut & to avoid any further internal strife. This message does not get sideways with Trump because he’s already done what Trump wanted.”