President Donald Trump on Friday insisted that he had the right as president to ask the attorney general to intervene in a criminal case, just a day after Attorney General William Barr issued a rare rebuke of the president, saying his tweets about Justice Department matters "make it impossible for me to do my job."
Referring to Barr’s interview, in which the attorney general said the president “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case," Trump tweeted on Friday, "This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!”
The tweet was Trump’s first since Barr’s interview was published online Thursday.
Barr, referring to Trump’s tweeting, told ABC News, "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 and to assure the courts and the department that we're doing our work with integrity."
His comments came days after the department overruled federal prosecutors in Roger Stone's criminal case, a decision that resulted in all four prosecutors quitting the case. The prosecutors on Monday had recommended that Stone get seven to nine years in prison, a decision Trump lambasted on Twitter as "disgraceful" in the wee hours on Tuesday.
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Barr told ABC News that he and his staff had decided to recommend a lower sentence before Trump tweeted because they thought the recommended sentence was too long — but the president's criticism put them in a tough spot.
Following Barr’s interview, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that "the president wasn't bothered by the comments at all," but she indicated that Trump would not curb his tweets.
Trump, she added, "has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions.”
Barr has privately told Trump in recent weeks that his public statements on a number of occasions were making Barr’s job increasingly difficult and asked the president to stop, according to a source familiar with the events.
However, the source says Barr did not alert the president to what he would be saying in the interview.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the House impeachment inquiry and Senate trial prosecution of Trump, commented Friday on Barr's interview and the intervention on Stone's sentencing recommendation, saying the attorney general "fools no one" and is "a witting accomplice to Trump's attack on the rule of law."
"He's only upset that Trump's tweets made the political nature of his intervention obvious," Schiff wrote on Twitter, retweeting Barr's interview with ABC News.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment on Trump’s claim that he has the legal right to ask for interventions in the department's criminal cases and would not say whether the president and Barr have spoken since the attorney general's interview aired.