Before breaking his silence Thursday in an interview with ABC News, Attorney General William Barr complained privately "for weeks" to President Donald Trump about his tweets and public statements related to Justice Department investigations, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.
Despite those apparent warnings, however, Trump over the past several weeks was unrelenting in his targeting of his various political enemies in speeches and over Twitter like former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former special counsel Robert Mueller.
In fact, Barr sat in the front row during a post-impeachment event at the White House where President Trump rattled off what amounted to an 'enemies' list, fumed that Comey had been "caught... in the act," and suggested he belonged in jail.
"Had I not fired James Comey, who was a disaster, by the way, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now," Trump said. "We caught him in the act. Dirty cops. Bad people. If this happened to President Obama, a lot of people would have been in jail for a long time already. Many, many years."
It's not clear what Trump meant by his remarks. While the DOJ inspector general has found that Comey violated several of the FBI's ethics rules, the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. declined to prosecute him and he has faced no other charges of criminal wrongdoing.
In his exclusive interview with ABC News Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, Barr indicated that the culmination of comments by the president this week surrounding the Stone case were what led him to drag his private criticism into the public sphere -- an unprecedented rebuke for a Cabinet official during Trump's time in office.
Specifically, Barr took issue with Trump's attack on U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, whom Trump attacked over Twitter this week for her handling of the sentencing of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
"If you have a case before a judge to be attacking the judge, you know, it is not helpful or productive at all," Barr told ABC News. "And also, you know, I think attacking- for people to attack people here in the department or in the FBI in general terms is unfair."
The public pressure facing Barr to reassert the DOJ's independence only further escalated following a tweet by Trump congratulating Barr for "taking charge" of the Stone case, just hours after he ordered the reversal of the previous sentencing recommendation put forward by prosecutors of seven to nine years.
Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
"I think I can understand why people are concerned that it could influence the work of the department," Barr said when asked about the tweet.
"He just needed to [speak out] in light of what was happening," the person familiar with Barr's deliberations said.
According to the person, the Justice Department had disclosed to the White House that the interview with ABC News would occur, though they said the White House was not made aware about what Barr would say or his plan to criticize the president until after the interview taped.