Barr himself has been under fire for the reversal. Still, it was a highly unusual move for a member of the Cabinet to criticize the president — especially a Trump loyalist who shares the president’s views on expansive executive powers.
Thursday’s comment served as a defense of his own integrity — an effort to salvage his own reputation and that of the Department of Justice by publicly rebuking the president he’s propped up from Day One of his tenure.
The remarks, made so quickly after the decision to back away from the sentencing, suggested Barr was aware the reversal had chipped away at the department’s historic reputation for independence from political sway.
But he stopped short of acknowledging wrongdoing by anyone.
Barr said Trump’s tweets created perception problems for the department that called into question its independence, but he denied there was any order from Trump and said Trump’s tweets did not factor into the decision.
Barr joined a roster of high level aides who have publicly criticized Trump, thought the rest left the job first. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is to publish a book next month detailing his time in the White House including criticism of Trump actions such as his decision to withhold military assistance while seeking a political favor from Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Trump applauded Barr on Twitter for the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation, writing: “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.
The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump blasted the recommendation on Twitter as “very horrible and unfair”— and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. The about-face prompted the four attorneys who prosecuted Stone to quit the case.
. 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’re doing our work with integrity.
Stone was convicted in November of tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Barr said he was “of course” prepared to deal with any ramifications from the president for his comments. Administration officials said senior White House aides were not informed of the contents of Barr’s interview before it aired.
“As I said during my confirmation, I came in to serve as attorney general. I am responsible for everything that happens in the department, but the thing I have most responsibility for are the issues that are brought to me for decision,” Barr said in the interview.
It is extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court. The actual sentencing is up to the judge.
Meanwhile, the Chief Judge of the D.C.
“The Judges of this court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the probation office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,’’ she wrote. ‘‘Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.
He said of the prosecutors who resigned in protest: “I don’t think they quit the case.
. I don’t think they quit for moral reasons.
I think they got caught in the act by me.’’
‘‘Now what am I going to do, sit back and let a man go to jail maybe for nine years when murderers aren’t going to jail? You have some of the most serious horrible rapists and everything else.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham said in a statement that Barr “has my complete confidence” and “is the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the Rule of Law.
Earlier this week, Graham said, and Barr later confirmed, that Justice was accepting information that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is gathering in Ukraine about Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son.
In the ABC interview, Barr said of the president, “If he were to say go investigate somebody because — and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent — then the attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out.
Democrats decried the Justice Department’s reversal on Stone and called for immediate investigations. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the Justice Department’s inspector general to step in.
He cleared the president of obstruction of justice even when special counsel Robert Mueller had pointedly declined to do so. He declared that the FBI’s Russia investigation, which resulted in charges against Stone, had been based on a “bogus narrative.
Barr also appointed U.S.
Attorney John Durham to lead a criminal inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation, including examining what led the U.S.