President Trump on Friday ignored his attorney general's public request to stop tweeting about the Justice Department, saying he had the legal right to ask the agency to intervene in a criminal case, but he's so far "chosen not to."
Trump's Friday morning tweet came just hours after Attorney General William Barr said in a striking interview with ABC News that the president's tweets were making it "impossible" to do his job, especially following the department's bungled handling of the sentencing recommendation for Trump ally and confidant Roger Stone.
Trump, in his tweet, also left open the possibility that he would ask Barr for something in a criminal matter in the future.
While technically as the president, Trump has the right to compel the Justice Department to investigate as an executive branch agency. But historically, the Justice Department has functioned as an independent agency, unmoved and unbound by political sway. And that reputation is important to Barr, as he made clear in the interview.
"I'm happy to say that, in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case," Barr told ABC. "However, to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people ... about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity."
Trump has publicly and privately raged about payback in the form of investigations against his perceived enemies, including former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and he's also pressed for investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, especially following Trump's impeachment acquittal over a phone call where he asked Ukraine's leaders to investigate the Bidens.
After the interview Thursday evening, the White House offered a tempered response that Trump "wasn't bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions."
But the president on Friday quoted one of Barr's comments in the interview: "The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case." A.G. Barr — and then Trump added in his tweet — "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!"
Earlier this week, the Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors — who had recommended in a court filing that Trump's longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison — and took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek. The department didn't offer an amended number. The entire trial team quit the case after the amended filing, and Barr faced intense criticism over the decision because it came just hours after Trump tweeted his displeasure about the recommendation.
Stone was convicted in November of tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. He's scheduled to be sentenced next week.