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Barr pushes back against Trump’s criticism of Justice Dept., says tweets ‘make it impossible for me to do my job’

Bill Barr ABC interview: AG says Trump’s tweet’s ‘make it impossible for me to do my job’ – The Washington Post National Security

Attorney General William P. Barr listens as President Trump delivers remarks in the Oval Office last year. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)By Devlin Barrett and

Devlin BarrettReporter focusing on national security and law enforcementEmail BioFollow Matt Zapotosky

Matt ZapotoskyNational security reporter covering the Justice DepartmentEmail BioFollow February 13 at 5:49 PM

Attorney General William P. Barr pushed back hard Thursday against President Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department, saying “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” a remarkable public rebuke that could jeopardize his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said in an interview with ABC News, adding 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.”

[Trump takes aim at judge ahead of Roger Stone’s sentencing]

Since becoming attorney general last year, Barr has routinely defended the president, much to the frustration of congressional Democrats and some current and former Justice Department officials who have expressed outrage over what they consider an erosion of the agency’s independence. Thursday’s interview marks not just a break from that practice, but the most forceful public pushback against the president by any sitting member of his Cabinet.

The comments are almost certain to anger the president, who has heaped criticism on a selection of current and former Justice Department officials over prosecutions and investigations involving the president’s former associates and alleged leaking by government officials. Barr said he was prepared to accept the consequences of speaking out against the president.

“I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” the attorney general said. He also noted that when he became attorney general last year, he pledged to resist intimidation from any quarter, whether Congress, the White House, or elsewhere.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[Barr under scrutiny over Stone sentencing fight]

Barr’s public rebuke of the president comes as the attorney general contends with worsening turmoil at the Justice Department, where current and former officials question whether Trump has bent the justice system to his will.

The attorney general has faced mounting scrutiny since Tuesday, when four prosecutors handling the case of President Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone withdrew from the proceedings amid a dispute over how long he should spend in prison.

In a Monday court filing, the four prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years, following extensive debate beforehand with their supervisors in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.Subtitle SettingsFontDefaultMono SansMono SerifSansSerifComicFancySmall CapsFont SizeDefaultSmallMediumLargeX-LargeXX-LargeFont EdgeDefaultOutline DarkOutline LightOutline Dark BoldOutline Light BoldShadow DarkShadow LightShadow Dark BoldShadow Light BoldFont ColorDefaultBlackSilverGrayWhiteMaroonRedPurpleFuchsiaGreenLimeOliveYellowNavyBlueTealAquaOrangeDefault100%75%50%25%0%BackgroundDefaultBlackSilverGrayWhiteMaroonRedPurpleFuchsiaGreenLimeOliveYellowNavyBlueTealAquaOrangeDefault100%75%50%25%0%Stone found guilty: The colorful, weird and bizarre parts of the indictment, explainedSkip

Roger Stone was found guilty on Nov. 15 of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice over remarks about WikiLeaks’ 2016 email releases. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Trump reacted angrily, tweeting Tuesday: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

[Prosecutors quit Stone case over sentencing fight]

In the ABC News interview, Barr said he was surprised by prosecutors’ first filing in the Stone case.

He asserted said that Tim Shea, the U.S. attorney in D.C., had chatted with him briefly on Monday, before the Stone filing, and told him the prosecutors “very much wanted to recommend the seven to nine years to the judge.” But, Barr claimed that Shea told him “he thought that there was a way of satisfying everybody and providing more flexibility.”

“I was under the impression that what was going to happen was very much as I had suggested, which is deferring to the judge, and then pointing out various factors and circumstances,” Barr said.

Barr said when he first saw news reports Monday night of the recommendation that was filed, he thought “Gee, the news is spinning this, this is not what we were going to do.”

“I was very surprised,” Barr said. “And once I confirmed that that’s actually what we filed, I said that night, to my staff, that we had to get ready because we had to do something in the morning to amend that and clarify what our position was.”

Next came the president’s tweet complaining that Stone was being treated unfairly, which Barr said put him in an untenable position.

“Once the tweet occurred, the question is, ‘Well, now what do I do?’” Barr said. “And 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 insisted that Trump had “never” talked with him about the sentencing recommendation, and that he had “not discussed the Roger Stone case at the White House.”

Barr said Trump would be within his rights to ask for an investigation in an area that didn’t affect his personal interests — such as in a terrorism case, or fraud by a bank. But he said an attorney general would not listen to an order to investigate a political opponent.

“If he were to say go investigate somebody, and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then an attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out,” Barr said.

Stone was convicted by a jury in November of obstructing Congress and witness intimidation, and prosecutors said he lied to protect Trump. The charges against Stone were the last filed by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The new sentencing recommendation — signed by Shea, and a different career prosecutor — said the previous guidance “could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.” Shea, a former close adviser to Barr at Justice Department headquarters, was installed at the U.S. Attorney’s Office last month.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers can only make recommendations about prison sentences. Stone is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20 by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, whom Trump also targeted this week in tweets complaining about her treatment of Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and suggesting Jackson had, in another case, gone too easy on his Democratic rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, has said the agency decided before Trump’s Tuesday tweet to revise the sentencing recommendation, and that there were no discussions between the White House and Justice Department about Stone’s case in the days leading up to the prosecutors’ guidance.

Current and former Justice Department officials have expressed alarm about the sequence of events, questioning whether the department under Barr caved to the president’s whim on such a high-profile case.

On Wednesday, Trump praised the department’s change of course and singled out Barr specifically.

“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 wrote on Twitter. “Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted.”

Democrats called earlier this week for the inspector general to investigate the dispute surrounding Stone’s sentence recommendation.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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