Trump Responds After Barr's Surprise Criticism

President declares the legal right to direct attorney general how to handle cases
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2020 9:00 AM CST
Trump Responds After Barr's Surprise Criticism
Attorney General William Barr speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association Winter Legislative and Technology Conference in Washington, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Attorney General William Barr made big headlines Thursday when he slammed President Trump for tweeting so much about the Justice Department. Barr said those tweets—including the president's criticism of the department over the sentencing recommendation for Trump ally Roger Stone—made it "impossible" for him to do his job. On Friday morning, however, Trump made clear he doesn't plan to stop his Justice Department tweets by issuing yet another. Coverage, including skepticism that Barr's comments were all they seemed to be:

  • Trump: He quoted Barr as saying in his ABC interview that the president "has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case." Then Trump added: “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!” The president did not criticize Barr in his tweet.
  • More developments: Two big stories out Friday: Barr ordered a "highly unusual" review of the case against Trump ally Michael Flynn, but, on the other hand, he dropped the case against Trump nemesis Andrew McCabe.
  • Rarity: One common reaction to the initial Barr comments comes from Fadel Allassan at Axios, who calls them a "rare public rebuke of the president by the attorney general, who has faced allegations of politicizing the Justice Department." The idea is that Barr was starting to feel the heat in regard to his own reputation and lashed out.

  • Skepticism: However, many aren't buying Barr's statements as being sincere, reports HuffPost, which rounds up examples. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC suggested people not "abandon our powers of reasoning" and believe the "official lie that was rolled out today to try to alleviate this crisis." At CNN, Don Lemon said Barr's criticism "sounds tough, sounds independent, sounds too good to be true because it is too good to be true." Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida said she wouldn't be surprised if Barr and the White House coordinated the public statement.
  • A theory: Another skeptic is Aaron Blake of the Washington Post, who notes that Barr has repeatedly made controversial, pro-Trump decisions in his post. "You could make a pretty compelling argument that Barr isn’t rebuking Trump so much as telling the president how to take the heat off some of Barr’s more controversial decisions," he writes. "If Trump didn’t tweet what he did this week, after all, perhaps the Stone decision wouldn’t have blown up as much."
  • White House: Before Trump's new tweet, press chief Stephanie Grisham provided the first White House reaction: "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," she said, adding that Trump has "full faith and confidence" in Barr.
  • The wait: So far, things seems safe for Barr. But Stephen Collinson at CNN notes that Trump is known for reacting poorly to any kind of criticism, and he often "stews" for days before responding in full. "The tenure of Cabinet officials can be short and brutal." Collinson also sees a plausible chance that Barr and the White House coordinated to some extent. "Still, the thinness of the President's skin is legendary, so Barr is not safe yet."
(Barr has agreed to testify before a House panel.)

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