Since Impeachment Acquittal, President Trump Has Been Acting Especially Unburdened

10 hours ago
Originally published on February 13, 2020 5:29 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases" - that's a quote from Attorney General William Barr directed toward President Trump in an interview with ABC News today. The attorney general had come under intense criticism for intervening in Roger Stone's case to recommend a lighter sentence for the longtime friend and adviser to Trump. And Trump had tweeted about the case. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is back in the studio to talk more about it. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: What more did the attorney general have to say?

LUCAS: Barr said that he had a problem with some of President Trump's tweets. He said that they are disruptive. Here's a bit more of what Barr had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BARR: Public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job.

LUCAS: Barr also said that the president had never asked him to do anything in a criminal case. He said he's never spoken with the White House about Roger Stone's case specifically. But Barr did make clear a couple of times in this interview with ABC that the president's tweets targeting the Justice Department and its work are a problem for him and that they undercut him as attorney general.

CORNISH: So it sounds like Barr is pushing back against the president. Some are hearing it as criticism. Has the White House said anything? Is he worried about the blowback from the president?

LUCAS: Well, Barr was asked about that, about whether he fears retribution from the president. Here is how he answered that question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARR: I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody. And I said, whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president, I'm going to do what I think is right. And, you know, the - I think the - I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.

LUCAS: Now, Barr has had a very good relationship with the president in his year in this job. Tomorrow is actually the one year anniversary. Trump has on several occasions praised Barr and his work as attorney general. This is really the first time that we've seen Barr push back against the president like this. He does say that he's ready to deal with the consequences, but frankly, it appears as though there probably won't be any consequences. The White House spokeswoman put out a statement tonight saying that the president was not bothered by Barr's comments, says that the president has full confidence in Attorney General Barr. But this interview certainly appears to be, from the outside, Barr's attempt to deal with the fallout from his intervention in the Stone case this week publicly.

CORNISH: And that fallout is very much from the legal community, right?

LUCAS: That's right. All of this ties back in to this Roger Stone matter. Stone, of course, was convicted last year of obstruction, false statements and witness tampering. He's going to be sentenced next week here in federal court in D.C. On Monday is when this all kind of began cascading. Career prosecutors handling Stone's case recommended seven to nine years in prison for Barr. Early Tuesday morning, the president tweeted that Stone was being treated horribly, was being treated unfairly. A few hours after that, the department intervened and reversed course. It submitted a new sentencing memo to the court. Barr said today that it was his decision to do this.

In that new sentencing memo, the Justice Department didn't specify how much time Stone should spend behind bars, but said that it should be far less than the seven to nine years in that original sentencing memo. After that happened, the four Justice Department attorneys who led the prosecution of Roger Stone withdrew from the case. One resigned from the Justice Department entirely. It is highly unusual for the attorney general to weigh in in the way he did in this case. And it has raised a lot of questions in the legal community about possible politicization of the Justice Department under Bill Barr's watch.

CORNISH: And now he might have to testify on Capitol Hill.

LUCAS: That's right. He has agreed to testify next month before the House Judiciary Committee. This is something that they said in their letter to the attorney general this week, that they plan to drill him on. They want to know more about how this all went down.

CORNISH: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.