Attorney General Bill Barr issued a rare public criticism of President Trump yesterday in an interview with ABC News. Addressing the controversy over the Justice Department's handling of federal prosecutors' harsh sentencing recommendation against for convicted felon and Trump ally Roger Stone, Barr said that presidential tweets and comments that give the appearance of public pressure make it "impossible" for him to do his job properly. He added that he'll continue to carry out his duties professionally and ethically, with no regard for 'bullying' from critics in Congress and the media -- or from the president. The key clip:
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody….whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president," Bill Barr tells @ABC News.— ABC News (@ABC) February 13, 2020
"I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” https://t.co/yOoXO2wbmA pic.twitter.com/ihzrmAcWDx
“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
Actually, such an action would be highly inappropriate -- which is Barr's whole point. Now there are reports that the Attorney General gave the president a heads-up about his critique before it aired, which would be precisely the right move. Trump needed this brush-back pitch. But sandbagging him with critical quotes would have been a mistake, and would have effectively ruled out the relatively subdued response we've seen. Barr is a smart, savvy operator who has unique standing in Washington in that I genuinely believe he does not care about the torrent of criticism he receives from the Left-media complex on a daily basis.
Beyond that, he's confident and established enough that he's willing to issue a pointed admonition to his boss without anxiety about repercussions. It's a fearlessness that arises from confidence, experience, self-assuredness, and having nothing to prove. And if doing the right thing in his mind rankles someone -- including the President of the United States, at whose pleasure he serves -- so be it. Another smart, savvy operator in DC is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who advised Trump to heed Barr's advice:
MITCH MCCONNELL on BILL BARR's tweeting comment:— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) February 13, 2020
“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
Some in the press oohed and ahhed at Barr's comments, noting the rarity of a sitting member of the Trump administration rebuking the president, while others promptly declared it wasn't good enough. Barr had "coordinated" with Trump. It was a "cover-up." The "real" story was Barr's improper involvement in a case featuring a friend of the president. But according to former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, it is entirely appropriate for Barr to oversee the final disposition of this matter, as it is a high-profile DOJ case that is connected to the special counsel investigation -- which the AG supervises, by statute. Prior to Barr's statements on ABC, McCarthy similarly urged the president to either use his constitutional powers and rectify a perceived injustice or zip it:
If President Trump is afraid, in an election year, to take the political hit that a pardon for Stone would entail, that is understandable. But then he should bite his tongue and click out of Twitter. The Justice Department’s job is to process cases, including Mueller cases, pursuant to law. If the president wants to make those cases disappear, he has to do it himself and be accountable. His provocative running commentary only ensures that the DOJ will be accused of kowtowing to him. It also guarantees that, if the ongoing criminal probe of the Russiagate investigation eventually yields any indictments, they will be assailed as political persecutions rather than good-faith law enforcement.
Earlier in the week, Nancy Pelosi was calling Barr a liar, while a flailing and desperate presidential candidate floated the idea of Barr being impeached. This is frivolous, partisan nonsense. I'll leave you with a brief commentary on the crowd that always demands actions that are, predictably, never enough:
Them: Why won’t any of these people ever stand up to Trump?!— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 13, 2020
Barr: [Stands up to Trump].
Them: Yeah, well that’s not enough and he’s still a complicit hack!
Like clockwork. Cynical and unserious.