William Barr pushes back against President Trump's criticism of Justice Dept., says tweets 'make it impossible for me to do my job'
Attorney General William Barr pushed back hard Thursday against President Donald Trump's criticism of the Justice Department, saying, "I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody."
In an interview with ABC News, Barr said the president's highly critical tweets aimed at the department "make it impossible for me to do my job."
Barr said he was prepared to accept the consequences of speaking out against the president.
"I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me," the attorney general said.
Barr has faced growing scrutiny since Tuesday, when four prosecutors handling the case of Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone withdrew from the proceedings amid a dispute over how long he should spend in prison.
In a Monday court filing, the four prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years, following extensive debate beforehand with their supervisors in the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office.
Trump reacted angrily, tweeting Tuesday: "This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!"
A senior Justice Department official claimed department leadership was "shocked" at the first recommendation and felt a need to correct it. Later Tuesday, more senior Justice Department officials called the recommendation of seven to nine years excessive, and a new filing was made to the court suggesting it would be more fair to give Stone three to four years in prison.
The new sentencing recommendation - signed by the interim U.S. attorney for D.C., Timothy Shea, and a different career prosecutor - said the previous guidance "could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances." Shea, a former close adviser to Barr at Justice Department headquarters, was installed at the U.S. Attorney's Office last month.
Stone was convicted by a jury in November of obstructing Congress and witness intimidation, and prosecutors said he lied to protect Trump.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers can only make recommendations about prison sentences; Stone is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20 by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, has said the agency decided before Trump's Tuesday tweet to revise the sentencing recommendation, and that there were no discussions between the White House and Justice Department about Stone's case in the days leading up to the prosecutors' guidance.
Current and former Justice Department officials have expressed alarm about the sequence of events, questioning whether the department under Barr has bent to the president's whim on a high-profile case filed by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
On Wednesday, Trump praised the department's change of course and singled out Barr specifically.
"Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted."
Democrats called earlier this week for the inspector general to investigate the dispute surrounding Stone's sentence recommendation.