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Update: AG William Barr says Trump tweets make it ‘impossible to do my job’

The comments came a day after the president praised Barr — in a tweet — for “taking charge” of the case against Roger Stone. The DOJ walked back prosecutors’ recommendation for a seven to nine year prison sentence.

Attorney General William Barr speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association Winter Legislative and Technology Conference in Washington, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorney General William Barr said President Donald Trump’s tweets about the Justice Department “make it impossible for me to do my job,” just a day after the president praised Barr for intervening in the criminal case against political operative Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political and campaign adviser.

“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody...whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president. I’m gonna do what I think is right,” Barr said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

The attorney general said the actions of the Justice Department were not influenced by Trump.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” said Barr.

In a tweet Wednesday morning, the president congratulated Barr for “taking charge” of the case against Stone after the Justice Department — which Barr leads — walked back the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations of seven to nine years.

The case was “totally out of control and perhaps should not have ever been brought,” Trump tweeted. The president went on to accuse former director of the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller of lying to Congress.

Stone was convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington of seven felonies stemming from the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including five counts of lying to Congress.

Why did the DOJ step in?

Federal prosecutors recommended on Monday that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison for multiple felony convictions, including tampering with witnesses and lying to Congress.

But the DOJ walked that back Tuesday. “The Department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses,” a senior DOJ official told CNN. The Justice Department has recommended “far less” prison time.

Pelosi praises U.S. prosecutors who quit

All four federal prosecutors in Stone’s case — Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed and Michael Marando — withdrew from the case after the announcement, according to The Washington Post. Kravis resigned his post and is leaving federal service.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi commended the prosecutors for stepping down in a tweet on Tuesday night. She also said the Justice Department “should be investigated.”

“By tweet @realDonaldTrump (the official handle of Trump’s Twitter account) engaged in political interference in the sentencing of Roger Stone,” she said. “It is outrageous that DOJ has deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing its recommendation.”

Stone’s conviction, Mueller’s investigation

Last fall, a jury in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia found Stone guilty of seven felonies for his actions during Mueller’s investigation in Russian interference in the 2016 president election.

The charges included:

  • Witness tampering.
  • Obstruction of a congressional investigation.
  • Five counts of making a false statement to Congress.

The collection of charges could have sent Stone to prison for up to 50 years.

Stone “decided to double — and triple — down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful,” prosecutors wrote of Stone’s behavior, according to The Associated Press.

Last fall, Stone’s defense attorney argued that the president’s adviser had answered the questions as he understood them and that there was nothing wrong with Trump’s campaign seeking opposition research, The Hill reported at the time.

Trump hints at a pardon

Trump responded late Monday evening retweeting a post from a writer at The Daily Caller, a right-wing website founded by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

“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!” the president wrote.

Trump could intervene in Stone’s fate by pardoning the former conservative political operative. The president has “the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offense against the United States,” according to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, “except in cases of impeachment.”

Trump has not shied away from using his constitutional authority for political allies, like when he pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio who continued to arrest people he suspected were undocumented immigrants after a federal court ordered that he stop.

Justice said they acted before Trump tweet

DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told CNN the department made the decision to undercut the recommendation of its own federal prosecutors without White House intervention and before Trump’s tweet Monday night.

Trump also denied intervening on Stone’s behalf to a pool of reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday, but told the pool, “I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it.