What's Going on Between Trump and William Barr?
Freshly acquitted of impeachment charges, President Trump has circled back around to complaining about the Mueller investigation. Last week it was what he deemed a too-harsh sentencing recommendation for former adviser Roger Stone, as well as the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute former FBI director Andrew McCabe. This week he’s broadened his attacks to include everyone involved in the special counsel’s investigation. They all need to be investigated, Trump has telegraphed to his tens of millions of Twitter followers.
Attorney General Barr is reportedly not happy.
On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that Trump’s relationship with his attorney general may not be as copacetic as previously believed. According to sources both inside and outside of the White House, Barr is even considering resigning from his post over the president’s repeated intrusions into the work of the Justice Department, particularly on Twitter. “He has his limits,” a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told the paper.
The idea that Barr has limits is laughable considering the depths to which he’s already stooped to satisfy the president’s agenda — from misrepresenting the contents of the Mueller report to trashing the recommendation his own department’s attorneys made for the sentencing of Stone. Barr may be frustrated that Trump won’t stop tweeting about DOJ investigations, but he’s probably not resigning anytime soon.
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More telling is the president’s apparent frustration with Barr’s Justice Department. From the Post:
“Trump has raged privately for months about the Justice Department’s not charging those he considers political foes, and people familiar with the matter say he is particularly upset by the decision revealed last week not to charge former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe with lying to investigators exploring a media disclosure.”
The president has made as much apparent on Twitter, this week ramping up his attacks on those involved in Mueller’s investigation. On Tuesday, he directed a torrent of vitriol toward what he perceives as corruption within the Justice Department, and even threatened to sue Mueller and his prosecutors. On Wednesday, he retweeted several right-wing talking heads defending his right to intervene in DOJ investigations, as well as a Fox News clip about the decision not to charge McCabe. “Barr should clean house at DOJ,” wrote conspiracy theorist Tom Fitton in the tweet of the clip, which Trump retweeted.
Despite Barr’s attempts to signal to Trump that he should stay out of the Justice Department’s business — Barr also recently told ABC News that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job” — the president doesn’t appear ready to take a back seat. He’s made this clear both in his tweets and to advisers, according to the Post. “[H]e has told those around him he is not going to stop tweeting about the Justice Department,” the paper reports, adding that Trump “considers highlighting what he sees as misconduct at the FBI and Justice Department as a good political message.”
Regardless of how upset Trump may be that the Justice Department isn’t doing more to take down those responsible for the Mueller investigations, he’s — for now at least — continued to praise Barr in public. “I have total confidence in my attorney general,” he told reporters Wednesday morning, adding that “we have a great attorney general” who is “working very hard.”
Barr is far from the first high-profile Trump appointee whom the president has been forced to reiterate his “confidence” in. In fact, such a declaration is often a sign an official is on the way out, as it was with former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former national security adviser John Bolton, and Barr’s predecessor, former attorney general Jeff Sessions. Barr’s job is almost certainly safe for now, but it isn’t hard to imagine that at some point Trump’s frustrations could shift from the perceived bad actors in the DOJ onto the attorney general for not waging a series of sham investigations to prosecute them, as the president seems to desire.
Barr has capitulated to the president’s will almost entirely since he took over the Justice Department early last year, but that doesn’t mean Trump can’t find someone who will capitulate to a greater degree, or at least capitulate without also complaining to the press about the his tweets. If Trump wins re-election this fall, odds are that Barr (or any high-level official, really) will face a choice: bend completely to Trump’s will and whim, or hit the door.
If and when Barr is ever replaced, it’s not going to be with someone who has more respect for the DOJ’s theoretical independence. Considering the extent to which Barr has already debased himself and the department he leads, a new attorney general could be a terrifying development.
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