Guy Farmer: Attorney General Barr to President Trump: Shut up!
Like many of us, U.S. Attorney General William Barr is fed up with President Trump’s compulsive and disruptive tweeting obsession. Trump tweets about everything all the time and often makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Barr and other top officials to do their jobs.
Barr almost reached the breaking point last week and probably considered resigning after issuing a public statement asserting that Trump’s tweets about active criminal cases “make it impossible for me to do my job,” adding that “I’m not going to be influenced or bullied by anyone.” Draw your own conclusions.
I admire Barr for standing up to the president who appointed him and defending the Justice Department and the rule of law against Trump’s assaults on his department. “I think it’s time to stop tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said, attempting “to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.” Good luck with that.
That’s when 2,000 former career Justice Department employees urged Barr to resign, but the attorney general told them he won’t quit even though he’s probably thought about it. Who wouldn’t if they were under steady fire from a president who constantly comments on active criminal cases? We remember how Trump attacked and demeaned Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure during former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign team and Russia. Mueller found no collusion but Trump was furious when Sessions, who campaigned for the president, recused himself, as he should have done.
And now Barr, who is accused of being too close to the president, is the target of Trump’s unhinged tweets even as the White House assures us that the president “isn’t bothered” by Barr’s declaration of independence. But make no mistake about it, the president is furious once again because he can’t stand criticism of any kind. Like a king, he demands absolute loyalty from his subjects and doesn’t understand the concept of constructive criticism, especially after the Democrats’ impeachment fiasco.
Following Barr’s courageous public statement, Trump soon tweeted about the “unfair” 40-month sentence his old friend, longtime Republican bad boy Roger Stone, received on Thursday for obstructing Congress and witness tampering. According to the Washington Post, Barr feels that Trump’s angry tweets “give people reason to wonder whether the department had been corrupted by political influence.” No kidding!
Trump didn’t need to weigh-in on Stone’s sentence because he has the power to commute harsh sentences, as he did last week when he pardoned former Illinois Gov. Rod “Blago” Blagojevich, ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former junk bond king Michael Milken, who lives in a North Lake Tahoe mansion.
Even though the president has harshly criticized multiple current and former Justice Department officials – including federal judges – over prosecutions and investigations involving Trump friends and associates like Roger Stone and Gen. Michael Flynn, Barr insisted that the president “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” I want to believe Barr, who seems to be a “straight-shooter,” as Trump has said. Hands off, Mr. President, and please respect our time-tested criminal justice system.
Nevada Democratic Caucus
I hope Saturday’s statewide Democratic caucus isn’t a repeat of the Iowa debacle, but it could be. A Democratic insider told me last week that the process may be fatally flawed. He visited his caucus site and said “they (party officials) seem to have thought of nothing.” I hope he’s wrong, but if he’s right we’ll be embarrassed on the national stage. Hope for the best.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.