DOJ Pushes Back on Reports Claiming AG Barr Considered Resigning Over Trump Tweets

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
February 19, 2020Updated: February 19, 2020

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dismissed reports that claimed Attorney General William Barr had told people close to him that he was considering resigning from his role over the president’s Twitter posts about the department.

“Addressing Beltway rumors: The Attorney General has no plans to resign,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Twitter.

On Tuesday night, The Washington Post and The Associated Press reported, citing unnamed administration officials, Barr had told people close to him that he was considering quitting after President Donald Trump did not heed the attorney general’s message that he should stop publicly weighing in on DOJ ongoing criminal cases.

During an interview on Feb. 13, Barr issued criticism to the president about his Twitter posts in the wake of one of Trump’s posts about the sentencing of former campaign adviser Roger Stone. The DOJ’s handling of the Stone case has received extensive scrutiny after the department requested a lighter sentence for the Trump associate. Top department officials intervened in the case after deeming the original recommendation of seven to nine years as “excessive.” The attorney general maintains that the decision to revise the sentencing recommendation came before Trump’s Twitter post.

Barr said that the president’s public statements and Twitter posts made about the department and pending cases make it impossible for the attorney general to do his job.

“To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job,” Barr said, “and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”

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

Reacting to Barr’s comments, Trump posted on Twitter that he has the “legal right” to ask the attorney general to intervene in criminal cases but has so far chosen not to. Earlier on Tuesday, the president acknowledged to reporters that his public statements about the department on social media “do make [Barr’s] job harder.”

“I do make his job harder. I do agree with that. I think that’s true,” Trump said. “He’s a very straight shooter. We have a great attorney general and he’s working very hard. He’s working against a lot of people that don’t want to see good things happen, in my opinion.”

Barr has been accused of threatening the independence of the DOJ by thrusting the department into political matters. The attorney general has faced intense scrutiny over his handling of the Stone case. Over 2,000 former DOJ officials have signed an online letter urging Barr to resign following his intervention in the Stone case. The online letter was organized by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit advocacy group staffed by former government officials, political operatives, and activists who have been opposing Trump’s agenda via legal means.

Meanwhile, former senior members of the department have also publicly criticized Barr’s handling of matter, including Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general under George H. W. Bush. Ayer wrote an op-ed published in The Atlantic accusing Barr of acting more as the “president’s personal advocate than as an attorney general” and being “un-American.”

In his defense, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox & Friends on Tuesday morning that the calls for Barr’s resignation did not surprise her. She said that “it’s been proven time and time again. There are obstructionists all across this government who are working against the president.”

Similarly, Republican congressional leaders have backed the attorney general in a joint statement on Tuesday in response to the criticism.

“Suggestions from outside groups that the attorney general has fallen short of the responsibilities of his office are unfounded,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote.

“The attorney general has shown that he is committed without qualification to securing equal justice under law for all Americans,” the statement said.

“The nation is fortunate that President Trump chose such a strong and selfless public servant to lead the Department of Justice. We expect that, as always, efforts to intimidate the attorney general will fall woefully short.”