In other words, this appears to be as much about a calculation as Barr’s own exasperation. It perhaps shouldn’t be taken completely at face value.
But it’s also worth noting the position Barr has put himself in: If Trump keeps doing what he’s doing, Barr could either make good on his threat or look like Trump is walking all over him.
And to be clear, Trump is a man who doesn’t really heed such advice. Indeed, he has already disregarded Barr’s requests repeatedly — and continues to do so.
The Post has reported that, in the time before Barr went public last week with his request that Trump stop tweeting, he had been asking the same thing privately, directly to Trump. That clearly didn’t work.
Then Barr gave his ABC News interview Thursday afternoon, apparently hoping that might be more effective. By Friday morning, Trump was at it again, saying he had the “legal right” to weigh in on the cases.
“The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2020
That same day, it was revealed that the Justice Department had opted not to charge former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and had closed its investigation into him. Trump, who has long pushed for action against McCabe, apparently resisted the urge to tweet Friday, but by Saturday, he was lashing out again.
IG report on Andrew McCabe: Misled Investigators over roll in news media disclosure...Lacked Candor (Lied) on four separate occasions...Authotized Media Leaks to advance personal interests...IG RECOMMENDED MCCABE’S FIRING. @FoxNews @IngrahamAngle— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2020
Then came Tuesday, when Trump approvingly tweeted comments from Andrew Napolitano on Fox News, in which Napolitano argued that Roger Stone should be given a new trial.
“Judge Jackson now has a request for a new trial based on the unambiguous & self outed bias of the foreperson of the jury, whose also a lawyer, by the way. ‘Madam foreperson, your a lawyer, you have a duty, an affirmative obligation, to reveal to us when we selected you the.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2020
Trump’s comments about the Stone matter were precisely the ones that preceded Barr publicly urging Trump to knock it off Thursday, and here Trump was doing it again.
Trump on Thursday had tweeted against the seven-to-nine-year sentencing recommendation prosecutors had filed in the Stone case just hours before the Justice Department said it would reduce the recommendation. That announcement prompted all four prosecutors on the case to withdraw. Barr said he had made the decision before Trump’s tweets, but he acknowledged that they made the whole thing look bad.
And then Trump did it yet again Wednesday, retweeting the tweet by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) about the investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
Barr is clearly trying to balance tensions between a president he has so steadfastly stood behind and a Justice Department that is unnerved by what Trump is doing. Arguably no Cabinet secretary has bent over backward for Trump as much as Barr, with the possible exception of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
But Trump has shown little willingness to give in — on this or anything else, really — and at some point, that puts Barr in the position of putting his money where his mouth is. Barr said Thursday that Trump’s tweets about Justice Department matters “make it impossible for me to do my job.” Now he is floating the possibility of resigning. So if Trump keeps on doing it, how can Barr just press on? He’s on record saying he can’t do the job in that scenario, so there’s really only one option, it would seem.
Whether he’d every actually make good on the threat is worth a healthy dose of skepticism. Barr has put up with a lot from Trump, and he has put his own reputation on the line repeatedly with his pro-Trump decisions. He has also launched unorthodox internal Justice Department actions that just so happened to meet with Trump’s very public requests for action. The combination has led more than 1,100 former Justice Department officials to call for his resignation.
Barr surely won’t be swayed by that, but at some point, personal pride has to be a factor. It’s one thing to do Trump’s bidding; it’s another to look like his stooge, for you to acknowledge that, and then for Trump to keep making you look like his stooge.
How many mulligans is Barr willing to give Trump, anyway?