President Trump on Friday insisted he has a “legal right” to intervene in criminal cases, but has so far chosen not to — amid a controversy surrounding Attorney General William Barr’s decision to overrule a recommended sentence for former Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Trump quoted comments made by Barr in which the AG said: “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, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!” Trump tweeted.
Earlier this week, four prosecutors quit the case after top officials moved to soften the 7-9 year recommendation for Stone (who was convicted of witness tampering among other charges) after Trump tweeted about the case. Trump on Wednesday denied interfering in the case, but has been extremely vocal about it — saying Stone “was treated horribly” and called a nine-year sentence “a disgrace.”
“I want to thank the Justice Department — and I didn’t speak to them, by the way — they saw a nine-year sentence… nine years for something nobody can even define what he did,” Trump said Wednesday. “They put a man in jail, destroy his life, his family, his wife.”
Democrats and analysts attacked Barr after the overruling of the sentencing was announced, and called on Barr to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31st — which the AG agreed to. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile demanded that the department’s inspector general investigate the matter.
“This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution,” 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.”
Barr, on ABC News Thursday, pushed back on Trump’s initial tweet while also defending his handling of the Stone case.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president.”
Barr continued, “I’m gonna do what I think is right, 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 the White House knew Barr was doing the ABC interview but that they did not know what the AG would say.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson, Mark Meredith and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.