ABC News broadcast an interview with William Barr on Thursday, as the attorney general waded through a crisis of independence at the Department of Justice. After a report on Tuesday stated that Barr was personally intervening in cases in which the president had an interest — including a push to ease the sentencing recommendation for Trump surrogate Roger Stone — Trump effectively confirmed the account on Twitter:
In the interview, Barr lamented Trump’s statement undermining DOJ independence, claiming that the president’s tweet made it “impossible for me to do my job.”
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “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.” Though Barr has reportedly pushed back on the president before — most notably, in his decision not to announce Trump had done nothing wrong regarding Ukraine — some commentators aren’t taking his comments at face value, considering that Barr’s reported intervention on the Stone sentencing lined up conveniently with the opinion of the president. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes:
You could make a pretty compelling argument that Barr isn’t rebuking Trump so much as telling the president how to take the heat off some of Barr’s more controversial decisions. If Trump didn’t tweet what he did this week, after all, perhaps the Stone decision wouldn’t have blown up as much.
If Barr had a more varied history when it comes to decisions that directly involve the president, it would be easier to accept that this is truly about the independence of the Justice Department. But Barr hasn’t been terribly concerned about the perception that he’s not independent before, and we should focus more on his actions than on a rare apparent rebuke of presidential tweets.
Meanwhile, Trump and Barr are taking criticism from all sides for this latest controversy: Nancy Pelosi has called the situation an “abuse of power” and stated that Barr “deeply damaged the rule of law,” while Lou Dobbs considered the Attorney General’s leadership of the DOJ to be “corrupt,” though for different reasons than House Democrats: The Fox Business Network host cited Barr’s decision not to go after “deep state within the Justice Department.”