ABC interview speaks for itself: video, transcript, commentary.

No doubt that Trump has a right to express his opinion (as do you or I), but what I don't understand is how that makes it impossible for the DOJ to act independently from the White House.

Addendum: the answers offered thus far seem to go off on a tangent, so let me try to restate the focus of the question: In what way does Trump's public statements prevent or inhibit Barr from conducting the DOJ with honor and integrity?

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    When your boss tells you that your actions are idiotic, I assume that you then continue what you're doing without changes?
    – doneal24
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 16:26
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    Might be helpful to list some of those statements.
    – puppetsock
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 17:06
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    The President doesn't have rights. The President has powers.
    – hobbs
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 18:03
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    @hobbs - are you seriously asserting that the President doesn't have 1) right of free speech, 2) right to vote, 3) right to worship as he pleases, etc etc?
    – BobE
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 5:23
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    No doubt that Trump has a right to express his opinion That is is by far too little doubt. He has taken on obligations and if and when expressing opinions conflicts with these obligations this right certainly is at least 'in doubt'. Mr. Trump doesn't seem to understand the concept of having obligations, however.
    – TaW
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 18:38

7 Answers 7


The difficulty here is that Trump refuses to make a distinction between when he is expressing his opinion as a private citizen and when he is expressing his opinion as the highest public official. Private citizens are free to believe and say anything they like, because there is no immediate avenue for the expression of a private citizen to be turned into policy or practice, For instance, if any one of us were to tweet out (for some weird reason) "I think someone ought to nuke the holy hell of of Uzbekistan" no one would pay it much mind. But if the President of the United States were to tweet out the same message it would cause heightened tensions (if not complete panic) world-wide, because the office of the presidency carries with it the power to make that statement a reality.

Many presidents have used the power of the 'bully pulpit': standing up as president to make direct social or political commentary and try to encourage specific actions. But past presidents have always been explicit about making such statements as president, and have consequently avoided doing things that would jeopardize their credibility as president, impugn the office, or create conflicts of interest, threats or extortions, or quid-pro-quo conditions. Trump consistently presents his commentary as though it were just the private musings of a private citizen, but has demonstrated his willingness to to use the Office of the President to punish those who do not follow his ostensibly private musings. This creates an unconscionable tension in many areas of policy. For instance, the reason all those prosecutors in the Roger Stone case quit the case is that they felt the president's tweets were a direct threat to their careers: either they comply with the President's 'private' musings on twitter or risk being fired or demoted if the President does not get what exactly he wants. This kind of pressure destroys the independence of the Justice department, and makes fair and impartial administration of cases nearly impossible.

It's ironic that Barr made this complaint, since Barr has (from the moment he took his position) gone out of his way to enforce the President's mercurial demands. I suspect Barr is concerned more about the appearance of impartial justice than about the fact of it; he would rather back-channel decisions like this so they are out of the public eye — as he has in other cases, such as his dismissal of the Mueller report — then risk looking like a toady because the President keeps pushing his whims out to the public on twitter. But that is the bed he has made for himself...

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 21:27

Trumps statements undermine the independence of the DoJ because they are backed by his twin powers of Pardon and Firing.

If Trump does not like what the DoJ does he can pardon anyone they sentence and fire anyone who makes him use that pardon.

Whether or not Barr allows these tweets, Trump's general attitude or other political considerations to influence him, the making of these very public statements underming due process and rule of law means that every decision Barr makes can be challenged as influenced by them.

Which makes it impossible for Barr to do his job, part of which is being and being seen to be impartial.


Attorney General William Barr comments to ABC news that Trump's tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job" appear to be simple hyperbole, since he also repeatedly claimed that he's not allowing Trump (through tweets or direct communication) or political considerations to influence his decisions or how he does his job.

Barr said Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet put him in a bad position. He insists he had already discussed with staff that the sentencing recommendation was too long.

“Do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be,” he said.

One can extract from all this is that Barr's main issue is that Trump's tweets create at least the appearance of political influence and make Barr and the Justice Department look bad.

"I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me," Barr said.

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    Or his previous claims that he doesn't allow Trump or politics to influence his job appear exaggerated at best.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 16:39
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    Note too that the appearance of impropriety is unlawful for government employees.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 1:45
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    He works for a boss who does not conduct themselves impartially, trying to do a job that Justice requires be done blindly and without bastardization.
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 4:25


In governing, as in most areas of life, the reason for performing an action is almost as important as the action itself. The Ukraine aid is an apropos example. As many have noted, America can and has in the past, lawfully used congressionally approved foreign aid as an inducement towards desired behavior, including fighting corruption. However, if the purpose of witholding aid is personal rather than national, then the action is corrupt.

If the AG has received evidence that an FBI agent opened an investigation under false pretenses, then prosecuting that agent will generally be seen as duly performing the duties assigned to the AG. If the President tweets: "I think Jeff Bezos should be investigated for how he runs Amazon", and the AG opens an investigation into Jeff Bezos, the people will assume that this is a nakedly political investigation and that the President is abusing his office to prosecute his political enemies.

Do The Right Thing

Now, what happens if the AG receives evidence that Bezos/Amazon was engaged in wrongdoing, and decides to open an investigation, but before making it public, the President tweets: "The AG must look into that no-good thief Jeff Bezos who publishes lies about me and stops America from being great again!" At this point, the AG cannot carry out a proper investigation and possible prosecution without appearing to be a political pawn of the President. The President, with a single tweet, can illegitimatize an otherwise legitimate investigation. Of course, the tweet doesn't make the investigation illegal or wrong, and ethically, the AG should still pursue it. But following the correct course of action results in the AG's office losing the trust of the American people, because it appears to be a stooge of a corrupt executive. It should go without saying that maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people is a fundamental obligation of all government workers.

Note that it doesn't matter that the AG can publicize the evidence of wrongdoing in trial, or even in the media at some point. Much of the population will assume that some to most of the evidence was manufactured to please the President and determine a particular outcome, eroding American's faith in the very notion of justice at the federal level (and by extension, at all levels).

No Confidence

Conversely, when the President undermines the AG with a tweet, it causes the rest of the Justice Dept. to question whether the AG is acting properly. After all, if the CEO of your company undermines a Senior Vice President in a company-wide email, I can guarantee you that everyone reporting into that SVP is going to think twice about orders handed down from that executive. At the very least, following the SVP down the Trail of Displeasure is surely going to be career-limiting at some point. Similar effects occur in gov't, because it's an organizational/social phenomenon, rather than a business one.


While the question seems straight forward, when it comes to politics and more importantly Mr. Trump, its always about perspective. But, the answer itself is simple. No matter what anyone says, the administration of justice was meant to be free of influence from the Chief Magistrate. If Trump tweets something, anything, then the DOJ is faced with a choice. Do what he suggested, and ruin any appearance of independence, or do the opposite and get he wrath. have you notice that in this no where was discussed what the DOJ thought was right? That is the issue.

BTW, Read the Judiciary Act of 1790, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers...

  • IMHO, what Barr was saying is that 'it's impossible for me to KEEP MY JOB when the President makes public statements that conflict with the DOJ official position. -
    – BobE
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 16:09
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    If “magistrate” means “judge” as is commonly thought, Trump is not one, and is not legally able to control one already appointed. Of course, what’s legal has meant a lot less than it should long before Trump.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 16:52
  • No, “magistrate” as used above is from the Federalist Papers, where Chief Magistrate” was the term used for the President. It was not related to the judicial term.
    – Patrick
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 19:14

Trump's public statements don't literally make Barr's job impossible, but they put him in a very difficult position as the manager of a large public agency that is supposed to be seeking impartial justice. While the President has the power to set policies and goals for the Department of Justice, they typically don't get involved in individual cases, particularly ones involving friends and political allies, since it undercuts the DOJ's appearance of impartiality. The difficulties for Barr come from two directions.

First, many of the employees that Barr oversees are highly qualified and credentialed professionals. Nobody likes to have their boss interfere with their day to day professional judgments. That makes Barr's decision to overrule the sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case an irritant, even if made for principled reasons of law and justice. Then Trump makes his tweet, and now all the rank and file in the DOJ have cause to wonder if their boss is intervening not for principled reasons, but as a favor for the President's long time friend and political agent. This is fraught, because the lawyers have sworn Bar oaths pledging fairness and integrity. Offering special consideration to friends and political allies of the President would not be consistent with fairness and integrity. Some lawyers take their Bar oaths very seriously, and you end up with four DOJ lawyers withdrawing from the trial, and one resigning from the DOJ entirely, all of which causes further management headaches. If you are worried that your boss is not acting ethically, you may be slower at carrying out their directives, as you make sure that every 'i' is dotted and 't' crossed.

Second, because Trump's public statements raise the issue of special treatment for friends and political allies of the President, the committees in congress that oversee the Department of Justice will be pressuring Barr to explain himself, and may even result in formal hearings. The time and effort Barr has to use to explain his actions in the Stone trial are time and effort he won't be able to apply to advancing his actual policy goals for the DOJ.

  • Does anyone ever use the phrase literally. Not literally literally obviously.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 20:58

I think that the answer Is No.

Trump does not make it impossible for Barr to do his job. If, indeed Barr feels that way, than this is because he allows Trump to influence him. He, or anyone else for that matter, always has a choice to do the right thing. He chooses to allow Trump to influence him if it is true what he says. And in that case he is obviously the wrong guy for the job. And back to the question, that means that he allows Trump to make it impossible for him to do his job. So it is self inflicted damage and not caused by Trump.

All that was just an interpretation of the words he had said. However, Look a little deeper and from a slightly different angle and things may turn out to be slightly different...

Fairly quickly after changing the recommended sentencing there was a serious outcry and calls for his impeachment and calls to investigating him. By Saying that Trump makes it impossible I actually think that he has started his defence. He puts the blame on Trump. So he is clear. And Trump is kind of untouchable. I mean the chances they are gonna try to impeach Trump again are close to zero and the change that the Senate will stand up and turn against him are even smaller.

So in short: I do not believe that it is about Trump making his job impossible (which I already pointed out is not the case in my opinion), but just a defence strategy.


  • I'm confused by the first part of your answer, because I did not ask a yes/no question. However, I would agree that Trump's statements (decried by Barr) DO NOT make DOJ's job impossible. Barr, and other's at DOJ, can simply do their job. If doing the job at DOJ means ignoring the President's public statements/opinions and that angers the President - they have still done their job as they see it.
    – BobE
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 16:01
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    Sounds like your question was actually intended to express what you had already decided rather than to learn something.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 16:55
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    @WGroleau - IMO Valuing the input/answers of others is useful to formulating my personal opinion. While it would be accurate to say that I had my own inclinations, I wanted to hear others thoughts before "deciding". Hearing what everyone has to say (both sides) is a good thing.
    – BobE
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 18:48
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    -1 Part of Barr's job is to reassure the country that the DoJ and US Attorney General serve the United States, not its president, and remain independent and impartial. Trump's statements make that part of his job much more difficult. If Barr goes against Trump he risks getting fired; Trump decides who is "the wrong guy for the job" eroding public confidence. If Barr goes with Trump he appears to be influenced eroding public confidence. Why Barr made his decision no longer matters, Trump's public statements will always add question marks as to whether it was to appease Trump.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 21:08

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