Welp, this is an interesting development:
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody….whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president," Bill Barr tells @ABC News.— ABC News (@ABC) February 13, 2020
"I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” https://t.co/yOoXO2wbmA pic.twitter.com/ihzrmAcWDx
He complains about Trump’s tweets, as everyone does (even Republicans). And he’s right of course. It certainly looks like Trump has asked Barr to intervene in the Stone sentencing (Barr still denies this).
There are two plausible explanations for William Barr’s surprising criticism of President Trump yesterday.
The first is the literal one. Barr, the attorney general, lashed out at Trump — for “a constant background commentary that undercuts” the Justice Department — because Barr is legitimately upset. He’s upset not only about the perception that Trump is inappropriately interfering in investigations but also the reality of it.
The second explanation is the performative one. Barr criticized Trump, perhaps even with Trump’s approval, to shore up the Justice Department’s credibility as an independent agency that makes decisions based on the law, not the president’s whims. In this scenario, Barr is happy to use the Justice Department to help Trump but would prefer the help to be less obvious.
To many, including myself, Barr is untrustworthy, and what he is signaling is for Trump to stop saying the corrupt part out loud.
I think Bill Barr is shrewd, deliberate, smart, calculating, careful, and full of it— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) February 14, 2020
Barr staged it and I’d bet with a heads up to the White House! https://t.co/tPn5MsK02i— John Dean (@JohnWDean) February 14, 2020
Rep. David Cicilline says he "questions the sincerity" of Attorney General William Barr's criticism of President Trump tweeting about DOJ cases.— CNN (@CNN) February 14, 2020
"It was the attorney general saying, 'I got this. … Don't make my job harder by tweeting about it and drawing attention to it.'" pic.twitter.com/8gt8Cgzw7S
Also note Barr is *rushing* out an interview to defend himself against condemnation for blatantly improper interference by:— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) February 13, 2020
– nonpartisan legal experts
– top DOJ veterans
– some conservative legal leaders
Apparently facts still matter.
What veteran peers say still matters.
Maybe it's not the tweets damaging his integrity but the nakedly partisan and quasi-legal decisions he's made on the tweeter's behalf? Just a thought. https://t.co/p2K4CZ3sxk— Joe Hagan (@joehagansays) February 13, 2020
I don’t buy that this was all carefully choreographed by Barr and the White House, however. Barr may have signaled to Trump that he needed to make some kind of statement to calm the troops and Trump may have agreed. But there is no way that Trump OK’d Barr calling him a bully or telling him what he can and cannot do. In fact, while the White House issued a statement saying that Trump hadn’t minded what Barr said, it very pointedly said that Trump would keep tweeting because he has freedom of speech like everyone else.
I suspect Trump is furious over this. Lou Dobbs of Fox Business, one of Trump’s most loyal media mouthpieces, certainly was, turning angrily on Barr only a day after praising him extensively. It is simply not believable that Trump has suddenly developed the emotional maturity and strategic intelligence to accept a subordinate publicly insulting him and challenging his decisions in order to advance a larger agenda. Having that happen on the same day that he heaped praise on Barr in an interview with Geraldo Rivera had to sting.
Trump responded this morning, both agreeing that he never told Barr to do intervene, but that there is nothing wrong even if he did.
“The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2020
“I didn’t do it but it was okay if I did” is a pretty common Trump defense. He used it in Trump-Russia collusion; he used in L’Affaire Ukraine. Translated it means, “I did it.”
Yesterday, Trump even revealed a lie about his involvement with Giuliani going to Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens:
The reversal came Thursday in a podcast interview Trump did with journalist Geraldo Rivera, who asked, “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?” Trump responded, “No, not at all,” and praised Giuliani’s role as a “crime fighter.”
“Here’s my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy,” Trump said, referring to former FBI Director James Comey. Trump explained that he has “a very bad taste” of the US intelligence community, because of the Russia investigation, so he turned to Giuliani.
“So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors, and the best mayor,” Trump said. “But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know, was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers.’
“Trump had previously denied that he sent Giuliani to Ukraine. Asked in November if he directed Giuliani to “do anything” in Ukraine, Trump said, “No, I didn’t direct him,” but went on to call Giuliani a “great corruption fighter.” Giuliani says he’s exposing legitimate corruption in Ukraine, even though his claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden have been widely debunked.
Anyway even after Trump’s response, many are not buying this whole Trump/Barr kerfuffle:
A carefully planned theater, written and produced by Bill Barr and directed by the WH. Hope everyone enjoyed the show. You've been played.— Chidi®️ (@ChidiNwatu) February 14, 2020
And so the DOJ continues to be a Trump political investigation machine. I mean, who needs Rudy when you have a whole department of government workers to do your bidding?
Since his election, President Trump has attacked the intelligence agencies that concluded that Russia secretly tried to help him win, fostering a narrative that they sought to delegitimize his victory. He has long promoted the investigation by John H. Durham, the prosecutor examining their actions, as a potential pathway to proving that a deep-state cabal conspired against him.
Questions asked by Mr. Durham, who was assigned by Attorney General William P. Barr to scrutinize the early actions of law enforcement and intelligence officials struggling to understand the scope of Russia’s scheme, suggest that Mr. Durham may have come to view with suspicion several clashes between analysts at different intelligence agencies over who could see each other’s highly sensitive secrets, the people said.
Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.
But officials from the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency have told Mr. Durham and his investigators that such an interpretation is wrong and based on a misunderstanding of how the intelligence community functions, the people said. National security officials are typically cautious about sharing their most delicate information, like source identities, even with other agencies inside the executive branch.
Mr. Durham’s questioning is certain to add to accusations that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies, like Mr. Brennan, who has been an outspoken critic of the president. Mr. Barr, who is overseeing the investigation, has come under attack in recent days over senior Justice Department officials’ intervention to lighten a prison sentencing recommendation by lower-level prosecutors for Mr. Trump’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr.
This whole thing stinks to high heaven.
UPDATE: Is this a signal to Trump?
DOJ tells former Acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe that it will not pursue charges against him. pic.twitter.com/imAyjZs9Nq— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 14, 2020
It is sure to piss Trump off. Maybe the point of Barr’s interview was trying pre-emptively to blunt Trump’s reaction to this decision.