Bill Barr Standing Up to Trump?

The Attorney General claims to be frustrated by Presidential tweets that undermine his department.

Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice countermanded the recommendations of a 7-9 year sentence for Trump fixer Roger Stone, prompting the resignation of several federal prosecutors associated with the case. This afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr, widely seen as a lackey of the President after his shockingly dishonest portrayal of the Mueller Report, seems to be pushing back.

ABC News broke the story:

In an exclusive interview, Attorney General Bill Barr told ABC News on Thursday that President Donald Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case” but should stop tweeting about the Justice Department because his tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”

Barr’s comments are a rare break with a president who the attorney general has aligned himself with and fiercely defended. But it also puts Barr in line with many of Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill who say they support the president but wish he’d cut back on his tweets.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

When asked if he was prepared for the consequences of criticizing the president – his boss – Barr said “of course” because his job is to run the Justice Department and make decisions on “what I think is the right thing to do.”

“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.”

Betteridge’s law of headlines tells us that the answer to any headline that ends in a question mark is No. And I fear that holds in this case.

When Barr released his now-infamous summary of Mueller’s report, I thought he deserved the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Attorney General, while a political appointee, has a unique role in our system and it’s simply expected that they shoot straight. Alas, Barr clearly shaded the truth and permanently altered the public perception of the report. (Of course, Mueller should have forestalled that by including a publicly-releasable Executive Summary.)

So, clearly, Barr no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. He’s a Trump stooge who puts his loyalty to the boss over his oath to the Constitution unless proven otherwise.

That said, there’s legitimate argument that the 7-9 year range initially recommended by prosecutors was in fact wildly out of bounds. (Popehat’s Ken White, the opposite of a Trump supporter, believes so.) And maybe Barr came to that conclusion independently and was exasperated to have it appear to be political cronyism because of the President’s tweets.

So, I suppose we’ll see what Barr’s next move is.

UPDATE: LA Times White House reporter Chris Megerian has a less charitable but perhaps more plausible interpretation of Barr’s plea:

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    7 to 9 was high. I suspect that a lot of that — fair or not — had to do with how much of a pain in the ass that Stone was throughout the process. That type of PiTA tax is honestly not uncommon. It isn’t fair. But man it would be nice if the Feds extended this special treatment to system effected people who aren’t friends of the President (you know, the people Trump recent wished he could just give the death penalty… like drug dealers).

    However:

    And maybe Barr came to that conclusion independently and was exasperated to have it appear to be political cronyism because of the President’s tweets.

    General procedure is that Prosecutors run sentencing recommendations by their superiors well ahead of submitting them to the court. So DoJ knew what they were going to recommend for Stone ahead of the papers going in. I find it, shall we say, surprising that a AG as “hands on” as Barr has been wouldn’t have been made aware that 7-9 was going to be requested.

    That the change came *after* the recommendation was made public suggests that there was clearly pressure from the White House to change things. The problem for Barr is that the President, once again, did the silent part out loud and keeps saying it’s well within his power to interfere.

    I suspect that things are worse at DoJ than they are at State (a scary thing to see) if Barr felt he needed to make this “you are making it impossible to protect you” performance on TV.

    The only question is if and when Trump angrily tweets about this. I have to think aides are going to be hiding his phone for a while.

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  2. Mikey says:

    This is such transparently posturing bullshit. If Barr were serious, his resignation letter would already be in Trump’s tiny, orange-makeup-stained hands.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    Betteridge’s law of headlines tells us that the answer to any headline that ends in a question mark is No.

    I offer you the exception that proves the rule: Should you bring a llama to your wedding?

    In regards to Barr, he’s just wishes his client wouldn’t crime so much in public.

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  4. mattbernius says:

    The message here seems to be, “I’m already doing this job the way you would want, don’t make this any more difficult for us.”

    Pretty much this.

    Also, given the well established transactional nature of Trump’s loyalty, one has to wonder what information Stone is sitting on that has led to such a heavy hand being placed on the DoJ.

    Update: Not suprisingly McConnell joins the “will you just STFU you stupid idiot” club:

    MITCH MCCONNELL on BILL BARR's tweeting comment:“The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be the attorney general and I think the president should listen to his advice." pic.twitter.com/lGZxA6asnb— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) February 13, 2020

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  5. CSK says:

    We’ll have to wait to see how Trump reacts to this on Twitter. He’s busy trashing John Kelly.

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  6. Pylon says:
  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Cheese it, the cops!

    This is why you have to be careful who you do crime with. Trump is like the worst crime partner ever. 22 years and I never rolled over on my one-time crime partner. On the other hand someone else gave me up, and I never blamed her – it was entirely my fault. Still she was not what you’d call a great crime partner, she got drunk and …

    But partnering with a guy who confesses compulsively on Twitter? Constantly?

    Don’t partner with senile, unstable jackasses. That’s like Crime 101.

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  8. CSK says:

    @mattbernius:
    Aides hiding Trump’s phone? They’ll have to pry it from his cold, dead, unnaturally short fingers.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And maybe Barr came to that conclusion independently

    And maybe UPS is going to deliver my magic rainbow farting, gold shitting unicorn tomorrow.

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  10. steve says:

    This is all for show. It is what you would expect an AG with even a tiny bit of integrity to say, but that doesn’t describe Barr. He has none. So things will keep going the way they have been and the gullible will now be more sympathetic towards Barr or actually believe he has some true character.

    Steve

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  11. Hal_10000 says:

    Today in Both Things Are True:

    1) The sentence request for Stone, like most sentences requested by federal prosecutors, was excessive and ridiculous.

    2) That the request was reduced at demand of the President doesn’t advance the cause of justice; it sets it back.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    @steve: That. Barr isn’t concerned about integrity beyond maintaining a pretense of integrity to get away with his agenda. And Barr’s agenda isn’t Trump’s agenda. For Barr Trump is just a useful idiot who Barr can manipulate. But the SOB is showing signs of independence.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    The Republican Congress critters dropped trou, laid down on their fat stomachs, and hoisted their asses in the air for Trump, a pathetic fake rich man, a daddy’s boy who squandered the family fortune in record time and now gets by hosing rubes who thinks that because he played a business tycoon on TV they should trust him with their money.

    And out of control Catholic fanatic and Opus Dei wannabe Bobby Barr thinks he is being called by god to protect the golden shower fat boy for… reasons. This will end well…

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  14. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The sentence request for Stone, … , was excessive and ridiculous.

    Was a presentence interview conducted by the federal probation officer?

    Did the federal probation office prepare a Presentence Report (PSR)?

    Did that PSR, (that actually determines the statutory range of punishment
    and a calculates relevant sentencing) actually determine that 87-108 months incarceration is appropriate?

    * It seems that we are now at the stage where prosecutors and defenders are filing objections to the PSR. My point is that the PSR recommendations were not some sort of fiction, but actual calculations.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    As expected, Trump hasn’t attacked and his sleazy son is Tweeting support for Barr. Proof this was all bullshit, a set-up. More clowning from the #CarnivalBarkingClown.

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  16. Scott says:

    If Barr’s irritation was real, he would not publically state it. Most normal people would call up the boss and express their irritation directly. It either shows this was performative BS or that Trump and WH are so disfunctional that no one has any ability or backbone or anything to do business in a normal manner.

    Both may be true.

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  17. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Even if this is a work, PoTUS can’t manage to follow McConnells advice and STFU:

    “The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2020

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  18. Mike in Arlington says:

    On Monday, Barr complained at the National Sheriffs’ Association winter conference that prosecutors who don’t push for long prison sentences are a danger to the cities they work for. And now main justice is pushing for a shorter sentence for both Flynn and Stone.

    I call BS.

    The guidelines may well have sentences that are too long, but if Barr is pushing longer sentences for crimes he doesn’t like and trying to make exceptions for Trump’s buddies, then he’s full of crap and his interviewer should have pushed him on this point.

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  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Proof this was all bullshit, a set-up.

    In most countries, politics is kabuki. This administration maxes out at vaudeville.

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  20. Barry says:

    @mattbernius: “7 to 9 was high. I suspect that a lot of that — fair or not — had to do with how much of a pain in the ass that Stone was throughout the process. ”

    Please note that this ‘pain in the ass’ included threatening the judge.

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  21. Andrew says:

    Barr reminds me of Jimmy (DeNiro) from Goodfellas.
    After they pull the huge heist, and the schmucks start buying fur coats, and Cadillacs…(Trump and sons.)

    “What the f*ck did I tell you?!”

    That’s what this reminds me of.

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  22. Tyrell says:

    @mattbernius: I don’t know about this sentence and how it fits what this Roger Stone did; I have not taken a look at sentencing guidelines. I did find these factual reports about the court system:
    “A St. Louis drug dealer confesses to selling prescription drugs but still walks free”
    “A bus driver rapes, a man keeps girl captive and neither are going to prison”
    (USA Today 5/3/19)
    “Judge lets guilty killer off easy with light sentence – bragged about it on Facebook”
    (NYP 2/18/16)
    I remember the SWAT type military raid on Stone’s home in the middle of the night. Assault rifles were carried into a peaceful residential neighborhood. Innocent people could easily have been injured. I thought that was overdone. Was that some of Director Mueller’s work, or Weissmann’s ?

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  23. Jax says:

    @Tyrell: I don’t know, were Stone’s threats to the judge “overdone”?

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