AG Barr criticizes Trump's tweets: Full ABC News Exclusive

Attorney General William Barr criticizes President Donald Trump's tweets about the Roger Stone case in an exclusive interview with ABC News Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.
25:02 | 02/14/20

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Transcript for AG Barr criticizes Trump's tweets: Full ABC News Exclusive
Gerald. At minimum there appears to be. And appearance problem. A top prosecutors recommended seven to 9 years on Monday evening. The president tweets at 1:48 AM Tuesday morning calling the recommendations quote horrible. Unfair in a miscarriage of justice. Then word comes out from DOJ headquarters Tuesday morning that the recommendations are too severe the suggests a lesser sentence is more appropriate. For the trial attorneys resigned from the case one of them quitting the Justice Department altogether. What happens sir in what was shall. Well as he as you know the this stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general and I supported. I think. It was established he was convicted of obstructing. Congress and witness tampering and I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy he was convicted. The issue then became the sentence. A new US attorney had just started in Washington DC. And the week before the fire line. He engage in conversations with senior staff here raise. Some questions about the sentencing equalize. He was concerned that. The so called it's the guidelines sentencing guidelines formula. It was indicating. A sentence between seven and nine years which he failed and all of us immediately felt was very very high end and access. This case. And so he wanted to discuss that and over a number of days it became clear. That the prosecution team. Wanted to recommend to the judge and probably sentencing is it function for the judge not the Department of Justice were not the decision maker. But they wanted to advocate. For a sentence. That was at the top between seven years. He and in those discussions here at the department. You know I came to the views as his colleagues did. I I wouldn't support. Affirmatively advocating. What I felt was an excessive sentence so. What I wanted to do was to provide. To script just defer to the discretion of the judge. But the judge make that determination. UN to do that from the outset yes and then point out. Different. Features of the case. That sheet should consider if she wanted to go below the seventh in nine years. And I won't get into the wires on that that there were a lot of I think very legitimate arguments to be raised or points to be praise him but at the end of the day we differed. To her. Or and that was what the approach was I thought we were going to take. US attorney. For the district Colombia signed off on his name is on a recommendation that went in there yet how that happened. On Monday. He came. Two briefly chat with me and say that. The team very much wanted to recommend. The seven to nine year to judge. And but he thought that there was away. Satisfying. Everybody and providing more flexibility. And there was a brief discussion that I was under the impression. What was going to happen was. Very much and I hit suggestion which is deferring to the judge and then pointing at various factors and circumstances. On Monday. Night. When I first for the news reports said gee that news is spending this this is not what we look. Going to do to your surprise I was very surprised. And once I eight confirmed that that's actually what we files I said that night. To my staff that we had to get ready as we had to do something in the morning two men that and clarify our position us. So the following morning and by the way I don't look at tweets you know read tweets cluster brought to my attention. During the next morning I was. You know putting putting that in motion and directing that he'd done when someone walked in and told me about the president's tweet. That's sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be. For the Department of Justice because at that point I had made a decision and I thought was fair and reasonable. In this particular case. And once the tweed occurred the question is well. And our elected and do you go forward with what you think is the right decision would be pulled back because of the tweet and had just sort of illustrates how destructive these tweets can be. So you're saying of a problem with tweets. Yes. Well I have a part of the problem. With some of some of the that we today. As as I said in my confirmation hearing I think the essential role of the attorney general. Is to keep. Law enforcement the criminal process sacked course. To make sure there's no political interference in and I have done that and I will continue. Had. And I'm happy to say in fact the president has never asked me to do anything in the criminal case. However. To have public statements and tweets made about the department. About. People in the department are armed men and women here but back case is pending in the department. And about judges before whom we have cases. Make it impossible. For me do my job to assure the courts. And the prosecutors in this in the department. That we're doing our work with integrity. This bar. The president. Does not like to be told what to do he may not like hearsay. You prepared for those ramifications. Of course as I said during my confirmation. I came in to serve his attorney general. I am responsible for everything that happens in the department but the thing I've most responsible for the issues that are brought to me. For decision. And I will make those decisions based on what I think is the right thing to do American and he believed influenced by. Anybody and I said it and others congress newspaper editorial boards where the president I'm gonna do what I think is right. And you know. The I think the V I cannot do my job here it department. We constant background commentary. That it undercuts. Why does it make it so difficult. For you to do your job and if he keeps doing it what are you prepared to you. White the united I think commenting specifically on criminals. Well again if if some examples would be if you if you tweet something about someone should be investigated for this summoned should go to jail. And it turns out you are investigating and that point let's say this hypothetical. And what do you do. Because people might think that if you proceed with the investigation. Was prompted by between the same kind of things happened here. So. And and there are other examples where. You know if you have a case before a judge to be. Attacking the judge. You know this is not helpful or productive at all and also. You know I think. Attacking for people to attack people here in the department are in the FBI. In general terms. Is is. Unfair and you know I think I came back into government because I love the depart and hand I believe strongly in an institution and I think we have. Great people here. And I can and and so. It makes it. Difficult to be a leader here how strongly do you feel about this. Well feels strongly about. So just to be clear here. Did you talk to the president at all about your decision regarding the recommendations. The recommendations on this case never anybody from the White House call you to try to info should know. And I have not had Craig not discuss the Roger stung case at the White House pedal pedal. Lisa Murkowski. Senator from Alaska. Here's what she said this week I think most people in America would look. At that and Satan that just doesn't look right. And then she goes on to say. I don't think the president needed to jump in the middle of this in the first place and Lindsey Graham who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Strong defender supporter of president and he soup he defended his frustration with. All of us happen to him in Washington he. Added this. I don't think the president should have tweeted about on going criminal case. So you share their cause yes. Give. And it makes it very hard you know it doesn't affect the decision. It doesn't affect my decision as I said you know the beginning during my hearing I don't pay attention to tweets that the president has something to say I expect. He will talk to me directly and call me. So I don't pay attention to tweets and I America pay attention to directions and do something that I think is wrong Ayman handle each case has I think. Law requires and his failure and and even hand. But I think it I think senator McCaskey is right that. People who who see these tweets. You know looking getting this impression that they that the work of the department is being influenced it. So when you heard him or you saw that. Him say. Congratulations to the attorney general bill Barr for taking charge of the case that was totally out of control. And perhaps had not been brought evidence now clearly shows that Mueller. The most in was improperly brought intended even Bob Mueller lied to congress. He criticized and judged as you mentioned earlier. How does that impact the department of people that work here. And the impressive the American people. I think the people who know me know me here in the department home in ten worked with me you know know that that stuff. Has no effect. What we do here. It will make decisions. As I say based on the merits. But most people in the country don't have that kind of exposure and I think I can understand why people are concerned. It could influence the work. You're telling the American public that had absolutely nothing to the absolutely. And and just you know I've heard very few people actually suggests that 79 year sentence would be appropriate case. Very few people even crypt people who were criticizing me it was. Very access. I didn't want my department to beat behind because I believe that each individual as unsavory as they made me and I'm not a fair Rodgers. But he's entitled to that particular rise. But. Careful application of law his case. He and as I say I could not support this happen to them right here and I didn't need anybody to tell me it's Edmonton nine years. Was an excessive sentence. You think I need the president's tweet to tell meet at seven tonight news excessive that was the reaction. You know the seniors staff here that. We can you know there's not really comparable situation that kind of sentence has been use and so. I guess I'm confused as to how. That recommendation could it filed when you clearly were indicating. That should go down. Yeah well it's I'm afraid it's one of those situations I'm confused too and I and I think it really was situation. Miss communication it was a very. Brief meeting was actually in between two meetings I had in and the US attorney stuck his head and then. Describe what he. How he Philly could reconcile. Things and Philip that he was saying. It. Was in accord with my view that we should not -- to -- recommends Edmonton nine years but we should have to judge work for some. Say they deferred to judge. And there appears to have been something lost in translation. Do you feel like. You still have confidence and here's to turning checked yes I do I mean I've known him shape for a long time as you know he was Whitney. Here at the department. Last summer as attorney general that was many years ago he has a great. A great record so over. In and he was just to be fair he had just entered into that office. And you know I think will establish better communications. Just want to go back to the four prosecutors who. Resign. Were you surprised that they stepped away from the case including one quits of the propelled him. My understanding is one left the department. But the industry not resigned from the department just resign I tell us. I was a little surprise because is the end of the day with this was about was whether. We this was a sentencing decision the judge was an and they beat making it wasn't you know the department wasn't that decision maker. And the difference of opinion was whether. We should affirmatively advocated seven to nine year sentence. Or whether we should let the judge decide and explain why it lowers sentence could be justified. And and I'm not actual war why that would prompt anyone to. To resign on the other hand. Again there may have been way communication problem because. Of the way the information. Now. Some people would say look they worked the case they know the case this. And they're just wrong in Europe and destruction gets to a very important point that the department witches. You know what other industry house you know life or death decisions be made the most junior level. The business this week. We at the department we want people with lot of energy and commitment. And so we express we we we hope for a lot of energy and at the same time when people working on one case in devoting a lot to what they can sometimes lose perspective. And that's exactly why we have if peace. System of checks and balances within the problem multiple level of reviews that fan with people was border and border responsibility. And most cases don't come up to care picture because people are doing a great job in the department. In in Anders and and a lot of the work doesn't involve much controversy. But every once in awhile other disputes are arguments over cases and those are the ones that come up in the AG has to make the decision. So. Some people state AG intervening. In the case that's preposterous we have an escalation system. It tries to get the difficult. Issues that are you know people are arguing that to get them up for resolution and it's the attorney general's responsibility resolve it. You know people have pride and you could see how they would see as a public rebuke you think. That's part of prodding him resigned in process but OK I don't know some you've not had chance to talk to them now. And do you expect any other resignations are you getting any hint of any other resignations in regard to this case people tied to the case. I hope I hope they're no more. Resignations. We like our prosecutors and they Stan you're known around town as someone who believes that the president has. Faster story broad authority to do the job to. To execute the will the state does the president have the authority to just direct you to open an investigation and you have to do it. Can you help people that own home understand can he do that. Well I discussed this in detail in my confirmation hearings I think in in and in many cat in many areas such as. That they don't effect is. Personal interest terrorism terrorism or. Fraud by a bank or her or something like that. We hear he's concerned about something. He he can certainly say you know I think someone should look into that. That's that's perfectly appropriate. If he were to say you know go investigate somebody because. And you sense it because their political opponent. Then attorney general shouldn't carry that wouldn't carry yet. Democrats on Capitol Hill have said they believe that you. We're somewhat misleading and how we describe them all report initially before the full report came out. You said openly that you thought the president was fired on net congressional hearing. You expressed skepticism about the launch of the origins of the Russian investigation. So they would say that you have. Maybe that the president feel like he can have the latitude assays do you what would you say that. I would say that you know that that that's not a valid. The conclusion. Obviously. The whole point of the Mueller exercise was determined whether there was collusion there wasn't. And frankly. I think you recognize haven't looked at the material directly that I didn't mislead anyone colors conclusions. But. In terms of the Durham effort which is to look at what happened that's a legitimate. Area of investigation. And you know starting a legitimate investigation. As to what happened. Is that's the work of the attorney general in the Department of Justice that. It's not like. You know running commentary from someone on the outside about what Purdue. New York Times reported to John Bolton. Wrote in his book that after the president's July 25 phone call with the Ukraine president he raised concerns. About Giuliani. And that he was pursuing the Ukraine with you. Is that true. I don't. I don't call that that was the exact. Quote. And actually get into into Bolton but. And were you surprised when the president mentioned you on that and when you heard he mentioned you don't did you likely for the colony does so. Five times and try to create the impression that you were working with Julio. Yes. Your reaction when you heard it. As it I was a bit irritated by it. But. In. The conversation jumped around. So. I'm not sure what he meant by some waves in this sounds like this in the same vein is creating the impression that you're. Doing exactly what he wants you do when you when he was should do is that. But frustrated you. Well I think that. It's very clear and I've always said this publicly and I think people know that what I am dealing. Is the review of the 2016. Election. That's what I'm looking. I'm not looking. Closer more general things about you crack. And I think mixing them together created confusion in people's mind it's. And so now we have Giuliani. His gun to Ukraine come back he's presenting information. And you told me earlier this week that it would go to the appropriate channels. But he worked with two men to get some misinformation who currently under indictment in the southern district. Can your issue. Opinion should it to the American public that the Justice Department is not going to be used as a weapon in a highly charged political season. Absolutely. And that as you know pier. One of my. Passions it is the feeling that we have to ensure. The Department of Justice not use his political. Football one of things I'm distressed about is increasing use the criminal process to achieve political results. And I wanna I wanna get away from. As you know it put had a memo. To make sure. That any investigation that could pass these kinds of political effect during an election year have to be approved at the very highest level the FBI and Department of Justice. Do you think the Democrats what's up twosome passenger. I now. And they. Many who didn't vote for me for confirmation. Right and they don't you contempt in which we live unfortunately. One of the things that makes it difficult. Is the hyper partisan age we live and makes it very. You know having known here in covered you for years you're not a person that response a lot to criticism. But I I am wondering in this version of the job you wouldn't and when you hear people on Capitol Hill say. Bars acting more like the personal attorney the president runs chief law enforcement officer. How irritated does that make you what do you say those people. Well in. This goes back to the fact we are in very polarized situation and and so in that kind of situation I expect the line low blows and the rural. Split. I don't respond to that as you say. But I do think that in the current situation. As arrives. You know the fact that the tweets are out there and car respond to things we're doing at the department. Sort of give grist for the mill and that's why I think it's time to stop the tweeting about it. Department of Justice criminal case and how would you describe your relationship with president and general terms and even talk specifics but in general terms house a relationship. Having a relationship is. Today support his program I think he's doing great things for the country. I feel that. Yeah he's faced a lot of resistance. And he still able to accomplish a lot of good things. And we have a good working relations. Here clearly setting some parameters for that relationship. Do you have any expectation of how you react to something she sent to the. Hey I hope hope people react in their respective. Yes. I thank you for your time thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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