Justice chief blasts Trump for making job ‘impossible’

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WASHINGTON, Feb 14, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – US Attorney General Bill Barr on
Thursday delivered a highly unusual public rebuke of Donald Trump, saying the
president’s tweets were making his job at the Justice Department
“impossible.”

“I have a problem with some of the tweets,” Barr said in an interview with
ABC News, adding: “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant
background commentary that undercuts me.”

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice
criminal cases,” said Barr.

Barr’s interview came as Trump stands accused of interfering with the
sentencing recommendation for his former advisor, Roger Stone — prompting
four Justice Department prosecutors to resign from the case this week.

The outburst was all the more remarkable as Barr has emerged as a powerful
defender of Trump, earning the nickname of the “president’s attorney” from
critics.

Barr has been in the eye of the storm over allegations that he decided —
allegedly under pressure from Trump — to overrule his own prosecutors and
seek a lighter prison sentence for Stone.

He has previously been criticized by Democrats and legal experts for
seeming to assist Trump during the independent investigation into whether the
president was helped by a Russian influence campaign during the 2016
election.

The two men are so close, that there was immediately speculation that
Barr’s television interview may have been more about managing public opinion
than a real outcry against Trump’s alleged interference in judicial affairs.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Trump had “full faith” in
Barr.

“The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all,” she said in a
statement.

That message was amplified by Trump’s National Security Advisor who
insisted the president has “tremendous confidence” in Barr.

“He’s a fantastic member of the cabinet he has a very strong relationship
with the president,” O’Brien told reporters at the White House.

– Trump’s Twitter muscle –

Unlike any president before him, Trump frequently uses social media to
broadcast his opinions and decisions without going through traditional
statements to the media.

Grisham indicated that Barr’s comments would not change that, referring to
the White House’s frequent claim that professional media organizations
misrepresent Trump and therefore need to be bypassed.

“President Trump uses social media very effectively to fight for the
American people against injustices in our country, including the fake news,”
she said.

Trump uses Twitter in particular to make instant, high-impact
interventions, often reacting to events in real time.

In the latest case, he used his Twitter pulpit to speak out in defense of
veteran Republican consultant Stone.

Stone was convicted in November last year of lying to Congress, tampering
with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into the Russia 2016
election affair.

Trump has denied that his tweets attacking the original sentence of 87 to
108 months recommended for Stone — and in support of Barr after it was
reduced by more than half — amounted to political interference.

When asked whether he had spoken with Trump about recommendations in the
Stone case, Barr replied: “Never.”

“I’m happy to say that in fact the president has never asked me to do
anything in a criminal case,” said Barr, who is due to testify next month to
Congress where Democrats have voiced deep concerns about his conduct in legal
matters involving the president.

In the interview, Barr said he had been “surprised” by the sentencing
recommendation filed by prosecutors on Monday, and was intending to “amend
and clarify” the department’s position the following day — when Trump fired
off his tweet.

“Once the tweet occurred the question was, ‘Now what do I do?’ Do you go
forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because
of the tweet — and that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets
can be.”

Asked whether he was prepared for repercussions for speaking out against
Trump, Barr replied: “Of course.”

“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he said, “whether
it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president, I’m going to do
what I think is right.”

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