U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he has "the legal right" to interfere in criminal cases, capping a tumultuous week that raised questions about whether he is eroding the independence of the U.S. legal system.
The President of the United States on Friday (February 14) claimed to have the "legal right" to ask his attorney general, William Barr, to act on criminal cases.
Trump appeared to quote remarks Barr made in an interview with ABC news, that, “The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” Trump tweeted, "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!" Barr appeared to push back against Trump in the ABC interview, saying, "I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases." The remarks come after the president attacked the Justice Department this week over its prosecution of his convicted friend and adviser Roger Stone.
After Trump criticized DOJ lawyers for recommending Stone be sentenced to up to nine years in jail, the Department reversed course and withdrew the sentencing recommendation.
Trump later congratulated Barr for "taking charge" of a case that he called "totally out of control," and said "perhaps should not have even been brought." The White House said Trump and Barr never spoke about the Stone case.
But Democrats accused Trump of abusing his power to intervene in a criminal matter.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. DEMOCRATIC HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, SAYING: "This is an abuse of power that the president is again trying to manipulate federal law enforcement to serve his political interest." One senator called for Barr to resign.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. DEMOCRATIC SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, SAYING: "Attorney General William Barr ought to be ashamed and embarrassed, and resign." Four attorneys who prosecuted Stone quit the case after the DOJ's reversal.
And Barr may be feeling pressure from inside and outside the department to stand up for its independence.
He told ABC news, "I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody... whether it's Congress, a newspaper editorial board or the president." And added, "I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me." He has not signaled he is prepared to quit his job.
And his criticism of the president's tweets falls roughly in line with other Republicans who've said the same.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. REPUBLICAN SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY, SAYING: "I think this is a situation where the tweet was very problematic." (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. REPUBLICAN SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, SAYING: "I do not think the president should have tweeted about an ongoing case." Barr has agreed to appear before a panel of lawmakers next month to answer questions about the sentencing fiasco.
Roger Stone was found guilty in November of seven counts, including lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Prosecutors said Stone lied and obfuscated about his ties to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign to protect Trump from looking bad.
On Twitter, Trump has attacked the judge, the prosecutors, and jurors in the trial.