President Donald Trump on Friday ignored his attorney general’s public request to stop tweeting about the Justice Department, saying he had the legal right to ask the agency to intervene in a criminal case, but he’s so far “chosen not to.”
Trump’s Friday morning tweet came just hours after Attorney General William Barr said in a striking interview with ABC News that the president’s tweets were making it “impossible” to do his job, especially following the department’s bungled handling of the sentencing recommendation for Trump ally and confidant Roger Stone.
Trump, in his tweet, also left open the possibility that he would ask Barr for something in a criminal matter in the future.
As president, Trump technically has the right to compel the Justice Department to investigate as an executive branch agency. But historically, when it comes to decisions on criminal investigations and prosecutions, Justice has functioned as an independent agency, unmoved and unbound by political sway. And that reputation is important to Barr, as he made clear in the interview.
“I’m happy to say that, in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr told ABC. “However, to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people … 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.”
The attorney general had repeatedly shared the same sentiment in private conversations with the president in recent weeks, telling Trump he was frustrated with the president’s public comments and tweets about Justice Department cases, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private conversations.
Barr was directly asked whether he believed Trump had the authority to direct him to open an investigation.
“Terrorism or fraud by a bank or something like that where he’s concerned about something, he can certainly say I think someone should look into that. That’s perfectly appropriate,” Barr said. ”If he were to say, you know, go investigate somebody because – 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.”
Trump has publicly and privately raged about payback in the form of investigations against his perceived enemies, including former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and he’s also pressed for investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, especially following Trump’s impeachment acquittal over a phone call where he asked Ukraine’s leaders to investigate the Bidens.
An administration official acknowledged there had been some tension between Trump and Barr in recent weeks, but Trump still has confidence in Barr and believes he is a far better attorney general than Jeff Sessions, who drew Trump’s ire after removing himself from the Russia investigation because of his previous work with the Trump campaign.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations and private conversations, said Trump also knows it would be risky to remove Barr ahead of the 2020 election and that it is highly unlikely he could find a replacement for Barr before then.