Attorney General Barr Considered Resigning, Official Says
NOEL KING, HOST:
We know that Attorney General William Barr did not appreciate President Trump publicly commenting on the work of the Justice Department.
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WILLIAM BARR: 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.
KING: That was Barr talking to ABC last week. Now we're learning that he was so frustrated, he considered resigning. NPR's Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department. He's in studio with me now. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what have you learned here?
LUCAS: So an administration source tells me that Barr has told people close to him that he has considered quitting. This would be because of his growing frustration with the president's public statements, including tweets about the Justice Department and its cases.
And we heard in that clip at the top that Barr has publicly urged the president to stop tweeting, stop publicly speaking about the department and its work. He said it undermines his ability to lead the Justice Department, his ability to assure the department's prosecutors and the courts that they try cases before - that the department is working with integrity.
And I'm told that this is all stuff that Barr has told the president privately for weeks now. So this tension has been in the works. But late last night, the Justice Department spokeswoman put out a statement saying that Barr has no plans to resign.
KING: OK. So if we were to try to pinpoint the beginning of this, a little over a week ago, President Trump tweeted that he disagreed with the DOJ's sentencing recommendations for his friend, Roger Stone. The DOJ then lowered the recommendation, but Barr said that was not on account of the president tweeting. But then some former DOJ officials started saying, oh, Barr should resign, 1,100 of them signed a letter saying he should resign. Is there anyone saying, no, William Barr should stay where he is?
LUCAS: So congressional Republicans have come out in strong support of the attorney general. They did so when he initially pushback against the president last week. They urged Trump to listen to Barr, to rein in his public comments about the Justice Department. And then yesterday, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham - two very powerful Republicans in the Senate - put out a joint statement praising Barr and defending him.
Now, you said more than 1,000. That number has grown, actually more than 2,000 now former...
LUCAS: ...Justice Department officials who have signed this public letter calling on Barr to resign. Graham and McConnell, in their joint statement yesterday, said allegations that Barr has mishandled the department are unfounded. And they say that he is doing an excellent job serving the country.
KING: Does it seem like President Trump is at all listening to William Barr when William Barr says you are making it harder for me to do my job?
LUCAS: He has certainly heard the words come out of the attorney general's mouth, but he does not appear to be listening to it - listening to them, no. And he admits as much. He was actually asked about this yesterday. Here's what he said.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do make his job harder. I do agree with that. I think that's true. He's a very straight shooter. We have a great attorney general, and he's working very hard.
LUCAS: And the track record of this past week bears out the fact that Trump has not taken Barr's wishes to heart. The day after the attorney general's ABC interview, the president went on Twitter and declared that while he has not asked Barr to do anything in a criminal case, he could do so if he wanted to.
And then Trump has continued to tweet and talk publicly about Roger Stone's case. Stone, of course, is a longtime friend of the president. The president has gone after the judge in that case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
The reason that all of this matters is that it has raised questions about the politicization of the Justice Department and the fair administration of Justice. And that's why people are paying such close attention to all of this. Those are the stakes going forward on this.
KING: Roger Stone still being sentenced tomorrow, yeah?
LUCAS: He's being sentenced tomorrow in federal court here in Washington, D.C. That is correct.
KING: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.