Barr's Whispers About Quitting Raise Stakes in His Ties to Trump




 

(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr has told associates he might resign in response to comments and tweets by President Donald Trump about Justice Department investigations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Barr has been discussing his frustration that Trump continues to wade into the department's business, after issuing a rare public rebuke of Trump last week, according to the person, who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the sensitive matter.

The attorney general's private comments raise the stakes between Barr and Trump, although Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec tweeted late Tuesday that Barr has "no plans to resign." The Washington Post reported earlier that Barr is considering quitting over Trump's tweets.

Trump "absolutely respects the attorney general," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters Wednesday. "They'll continue to work together," he said, adding that president has a long history of speaking out on legal cases he cares about.

Tension between Trump and Barr surfaced last week when Barr, in an interview with ABC News, said Trump's commentary on Justice Department matters was making it impossible for him to do his job.

Trump, however, has continued to weigh in, and told reporters on Tuesday that he's the nation's chief law enforcement officer, a distinction reserved for the attorney general. Trump also said he has "total confidence" in Barr, while indicating that he plans to continue to use social media to express his views.

On Tuesday, Trump again commented on the case of his longtime associate Roger Stone, saying he thought it was a "very, very rough thing" that happened to him. Stone is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday after being convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation, making false statements to Congress and tampering with witnesses.

The president pressed on Wednesday morning, retweeting messages from supporters complaining about the "deep state" and urging Trump to continuing speaking up about "DOJ corruption."

"There must be JUSTICE," Trump tweeted.

Barr, 69, has come under intense criticism since he overruled front-line prosecutors last week to reduce the recommended prison time that Stone should receive. Democrats have accused him of taking partisan actions to protect the president and his friends.

The attorney general has also faced internal turmoil after deciding that Stone shouldn't be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, which the prosecutors had recommended. Barr's team told the federal judge presiding over the trial that Stone should serve three to four years. The four prosecutors resigned in quick succession from the Stone case rather than stand by Barr's decision.

Trump praised and congratulated Barr for downgrading Stone's sentencing recommendation, and ridiculed the prosecutors, making it appear that Barr was infecting Justice Department cases with political bias. The president has also lashed out at the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who in an earlier case sentenced Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager and Stone's former business partner, to prison.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials signed an open letter released Sunday asking that Barr step down over his decision in the Stone case. "Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign," the former officials said.

Barr in the interview with ABC News on Feb. 13 said, "It's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases."

Separately, he has also faced intense criticism in recent days over other matters.

For example, he announced last week that he created a special process for Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to submit information to the department about Ukraine-related matters.

He appointed a senior prosecutor to examine cases being handled by the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia, including the sentencing of Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, who was later convicted of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador.

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, John Harney

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