Washington — President Trump responded to Attorney General William Barr's comments that the president's tweets about the Justice Department's cases "make it impossible for me to do my job." Barr also said he won't be "bullied" by anyone, whether that someone be Congress, editorial boards or the president. Barr made the comments to ABC News in an interview airing Thursday night.
Mr. Trump's response, written on Twitter, indicates that he is not deterred by Barr's comments.
""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!" Mr. Trump wrote.
Barr's remarks come as he and the Justice Department are under intense scrutiny for nixing a sentencing recommendation by prosecutors who said former Trump adviser Roger Stone should serve between 7 and 9 years in prison. All four prosecutors on the case. The president had expressed his intense displeasure with the initial Stone sentencing recommendation, which he declared a "miscarriage of justice."
The Justice Department and the president have insisted the president did not discuss the sentencing recommendation with the Justice Department, but the president has been vocal about where he stands. The president even praised Barr for "taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought."
Barr stood up to public criticism aimed at him on Thursday. According to a portion of the interview released by ABC News, he said the president "has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case" but should stop tweeting about the Justice Department because public statements and tweets about people at the Justice Department and pending cases "make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity."
He said he had made the decision to seek a lighter sentence when the recommendation was filed Monday evening. The president tweeted about it early the next morning, which Barr said complicated the situation.
"I had made a decision that I thought was fair and reasonable in this particular case, and once the tweet occurred, the question is, Well, now what do I do? And do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet?" Barr said. "And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be."
ABC News chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, who interviewed Barr, pointed out that the president doesn't like to be told what to do, and might not like what Barr is saying. Thomas asked if Barr is prepared for those ramifications.
"Of course," Barr responded, adding that he is responsible for the issues brought to him for decisions at the Justice Department, and he will make the right decision no matter what.
"I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody ... whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president," Barr said. "I'm going to 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."
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Mr. Trump "wasn't bothered by the comments at all."
"The President wasn't bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions. President Trump uses social media very effectively to fight for the American people against injustices in our country, including the fake news. The president has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law," Grisham said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham defended Barr in a statement.
"President Trump, in selecting Bill Barr to be attorney general, has done a great service to the people serving in the department of Justice and our nation as a whole," Graham said. "He is the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the Rule of Law. Attorney General Barr has my complete confidence."
Democrats have demanded an investigation into the Justice Department's handling of the Stone case.
Barr has faced backlash from critics ever since he announced conclusions from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report that later proved to be less than the full picture.
Clare Hymes and Grace Segers contributed reporting.