William Barr has received much praise from conservatives and especially from President Trump’s most ardent supporters. The praise is deserved.
Among his other virtues, Barr has stood up to his anti-Trump critics in Congress and the mainstream media to promote fair treatment for President Trump. His handling of the Mueller report is a good example. And Barr has done this without compromising the integrity of the Justice Department or running afoul of ethical considerations.
Barr, though, has become frustrated with President Trump, or at least Trump’s tweeting. The Washington Post says that, for weeks, Barr has been concerned about Trump’s tweets reagrding criminal cases.
The Post’s report appears to be accurate because on Thursday, Barr said as much. Barr told an interviewer from ABC News that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Barr also said that Trump would be within his rights to ask for a criminal investigation in an area that didn’t affect his personal interest, such as a terrorism case or fraud by a bank, but added:
If [Trump] were to say go investigate somebody, and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then an attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out.
Barr also said that Trump has never asked him to do anything related to a criminal case. Trump concurs, but says he has the right to make such a request.
The president took the Barr interview well, at least publicly. Whether he will continue to tweet about criminal cases involving the Justice Department remains to be seen.
He might be tempted to by the DOJ’s announcement the day after the Barr interview that it will not prosecute Andrew McCabe. The Post reports that Trump wasn’t informed of this decision in advance, and believes very strongly that McCabe should be prosecuted. According to the Post, White House counsel Pat Cipollone moved to calm the president down.
The Post sees in all of this “an angry divide between Trump, his attorney general, and federal law enforcement officials.” I don’t doubt that’s there is an angry divide between Trump and some federal law enforcement officials.
Whether there’s an angry divide between Trump and Barr is another matter. The Post’s reporting, even if one takes all of its allegations of fact to be true, doesn’t really show the existence of one.
However, there is the potential for a serious rift — the kind we witnessed when Jeff Sessions was the Attorney General. And there’s at least one early warning sign — what Barr said in his ABC News interview.