WASHINGTON–Attorney General William Barr, in an unusual break with President Donald Trump, said Thursday that the president’s habit of injecting himself into criminal cases and criticizing federal prosecutors has made it “impossible for me to do my job.”
In his first comments since the Justice Department earlier this week backed away from a stiff prison sentence for longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, the attorney general asserted in an interview with ABC News that the president “has never asked me to to anything in a criminal case,” including Roger Stone’s.
Stone, a longtime GOP operative, was found guilty in November of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
Stone is due to be sentenced next week. Monday afternoon, prosecutors asked a judge to put him in prison for seven to nine years, arguing that his “lies to Congress and his obstructive conduct are a direct and brazen attack on the rule of law.”
Hours later, in the middle of the night, Trump slammed their recommendation as a “miscarriage of justice.”
Tuesday morning, the Justice Department indicated it would amend the recommendation, prompting the entire prosecution team to quit the case. One resigned from the government entirely.
The fast-moving developments have cast a harsh spotlight on the Justice Department’s leadership, primarily Barr, and have raised fresh questions about the department’s independence from the White House.
“I am not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board or the president,” Barr said in the interview. “I’m gonna do what I think is right. I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about the Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said.
The attorney general defended the decision to dial back the sentencing recommendation, adding that it had nothing to do with the criticism streaming from Trump’s Twitter account.
Though Barr maintained that he did not disagree with Stone’s convictions, he believes the initial sentencing recommendation was excessive.
Stone’s convictions stem from his actions in 2016, when he tried to set up back-channel communications with WikiLeaks to push for the release of emails stolen from the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Stone repeatedly lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts, denying that he had talked to the Trump campaign about them.
Federal prosecutors come up with sentence recommendations using a combination of mathematical calculations and aggravating factors, called “enhancements,” that are detailed in a 600-page manual. The more enhancements, the longer the sentence.
In Stone’s case, prosecutors considered several aggravating factors: threatening to harm someone, interfering with the administration of justice, engaging in a crime that spans years and obstructing the prosecution.
Roger Stone sentence:How prosecutors came up with a stiff sentence for Roger Stone
The decision to amend that recommendation, however, prompted Democrats to call for investigations. Barr has been summoned to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31.
Former Justice officials, meanwhile, expressed alarm about the prospect that the department was being used to shield a longtime political ally of the president