President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that he has the “legal right” to meddle in court cases handled by the Department of Justice, a day after Attorney General William Barr said in an extraordinary national television interview that the president’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Trump, in direct response to his administration’s top law enforcement official, challenged Barr’s assertion that he will not be “bullied” by anyone.
Trump said that while he could interfere in the department’s criminal cases, he has “so far chosen not to!”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s tweet.
The rebuke on Twitter marks the president’s first response to Barr’s stunning interview with ABC News on Thursday.
Barr has come under intense criticism in the days since he pushed federal prosecutors to revise their sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of the president.
On Monday, the prosecutors recommended that a judge in Washington district court sentence Stone to up to nine years in prison for crimes related to lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election.
The proposed sentence fell in line with federal sentencing guidelines; defense attorneys argued that Stone should receive probation.
After the sentencing memo was filed, Trump took to Twitter in the middle of the night Tuesday to blast the recommendation as a “disgrace,” adding, “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Hours after that, the Justice Department filed a new sentencing suggestion, calling for Stone to receive “far less” time in prison.
All four prosecutors quit the case in apparent protest on Tuesday — and one resigned from the Justice Department altogether.
Trump praised Barr on social media afterward.
Barr and his department claim that the decision to amend Stone’s sentencing recommendation came prior to Trump’s attacks on social media. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for the department’s internal watchdog to investigate the matter.
On Friday morning, Trump zeroed in on Barr’s insistence that “the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.”
“This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so,” Trump wrote in response. “I do, but I have so far chosen not to!”
Barr had recently asked the president in private to stop sending public statements that made his life more difficult, a source familiar with the events told NBC News.
Despite the dramatic public rift between the two, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump, who famously demands loyalty from associates, “wasn’t bothered” by Barr’s comments to ABC.
Even some Republicans have criticized Trump’s attacks on the prosecutors in Stone’s case. In an interview on Fox, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday: “The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be the attorney general. I think the president should listen to his advice.”
Stone, 67, was convicted in November of crimes related to lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, as well as to pressuring an associate, comedian Randy Credico, to corroborate his false claims.
WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign published emails that had been stolen by Russian agents from John Podesta, the campaign chief for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and from the Democratic National Committee.
Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates testified at Stone’s trial that Trump had a phone call with Stone about WikiLeaks during the campaign.
Gates’ account contrasts with Trump’s claim in November 2018 that he did not recall speaking to Stone about WikiLeaks. Gates said that less than a minute after finishing a July 2016 call from Stone, Trump indicated that “more information would be coming” from Wikileaks.
Stone is set to be sentenced Feb. 20 in U.S. District Court in Washington.