Less than two weeks after President Trump was acquitted by the Senate, Democrats have their sights set on Attorney General Bill Barr as a new target for investigations and even impeachment, following the AG’s apparent move to overrule prosecutors’ recommended sentence for former Trump adviser Roger Stone.
From members of Congress to members of the media, political operatives to law professors, Barr is under intense scrutiny from the left for alleged “misuse of the criminal justice system” involving not only the Stone case, but the removal in January of U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu and accepting Ukraine-related information from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
He’s also walking a fine line with the president himself, who pushed back against Barr’s highly publicized comments Thursday that Trump had never asked him to intervene in a criminal case.
“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!” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
Barr will answer questions on all these issues in a March 31 appearance before the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee.
“In your tenure as Attorney General, you have engaged in a pattern of conduct in legal matters relating to the President that raises significant questions for this Committee,” wrote House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-Calif., in a letter confirming that Barr would testify, which he signed along with some of his fellow committee members. “In the past week alone, you have taken steps that raise grave questions about your leadership of the Department on Justice.”
Earlier this week, four Department of Justice prosecutors resigned to their posts after top DOJ officials stepped in to soften their 7- to 9-year recommended sentence of Stone following a tweet by Trump about the case. Democrats called the move “without precedent” and sharpened their already simmering criticisms of Barr.
Stone was convicted of witness tampering, among other charges.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Barr “ought to be ashamed and embarrassed and resign as a result of this action directly interfering in the independent prosecution of Roger Stone.” He also said the controversy was yet another example of “political interference by the president to alter the independent decisions of the Department of Justice.”
Nadler didn’t answer a question on whether Barr should resign, but said: “I think the behavior is extremely egregious.”
Barr, on ABC News Thursday, pushed back on Trump’s tweet while also defending his handling of the Stone case.
“I’m gonna do what I think is right,” he said, “and you know, I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
White House officials told Fox News that they knew Barr was doing the ABC interview but that they did not know what the AG would say.
Democrats, largely, didn’t buy Barr’s explanation.
“What Bill Barr REALLY means is that Trump’s tweets saying the quiet part out loud are making it harder for him to do the crimes and cover-up,” Jon Cooper, chairman of the anti-Trump organization Democratic Coalition, tweeted.
This followed Democrats’ condemnation of Barr’s willingness to accept Ukraine-related information from Giuliani, prompting Nadler to wonder whether Barr is “in league with Mr. Giuliani and his associates.” Barr has been a lightning rod for most of his time as the top law enforcement officer in the United States, including for his handling of the former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice based on the report.
“This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the Stone sentencing. “I therefore request that you immediately investigate this matter to determine how and why the Stone sentencing recommendations were countermanded, which Justice Department officials made this decision, and which White House officials were involved.”
Some on the left have even called for Barr’s impeachment, including MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, who tweeted before the Stone developments last week that Barr has lied “to Congress, he lied about the Mueller report, he refuses to investigate obvious crimes by the administration, he is conflicted out of many matters but refuses to recuse.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told CNN Wednesday that he wouldn’t rule out launching a new impeachment inquiry into Trump himself over the drama around Stone and Barr.
“You know, we’re not going to take our options off the table,” he said. “We want to work with him on prescription drugs, background checks, and infrastructure, but we’re not going to let him just torch this democracy because he thinks that he’s been let off once and we’re not going to do something about it.”
Others to mention impeachment include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., liberal Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and self-labeled conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned Barr on Thursday and called for an investigation but did not outright call for impeachment. Sen. Cory Booker joined calls for an investigation.
“Justice in America should not depend on your wealth and connections,” Booker said in a tweet. “I agree with [Schumer] — DOJ OIG should open an investigation into improper political interference in the Stone case.”
At the same time, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Booker, among others, hit Barr in a joint statement on “the politicization and maladministration of American immigration courts under President Donald Trump.” The statement announced a letter they sent to Barr asking for documents on the matter.
Republicans, meanwhile, have largely stuck by Barr. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a statement backing the AG on Thursday.
“President Trump, in selecting Bill Barr to be Attorney General, has done a great service to the people serving in the Department of Justice and our nation as a whole,” Graham said. “He is the right man at the right time to reform the Department and stand up for the Rule of Law. Attorney General Barr has my complete confidence.”
Fox News’ Mark Meredith, Brooke Singman, Marisa Schultz and Gregg Re contributed to this report.