Attorney General Bill Barr has often faced opposition from within his own Department of Justice, with some DOJ officials choosing to defy him publicly.
However, Barr made clear in a recent speech that he has no intention of backing down. What’s more, he had harsh words for how his detractors within the deparement have operated.
“In recent years, the Justice Department has sometimes acted more like a trade association for federal prosecutors than the administrator of a fair system of justice based on clear and sensible legal rules,” Barr complained in a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that drew shocked reactions from the media.
“In case after case, we have advanced and defended hyper-aggressive extensions of the criminal law,” he continued. “This is wrong and we must stop doing it.”
Barr: DOJ has targeted “prominent political figures”
“The rule of law requires that the law be clear, that it be communicated to the public, and that we respect its limits,” Barr insisted. “We are the Department of Justice, not the Department of Prosecution.”
“Rather than root out true crimes — while leaving ethically dubious conduct to the voters — our prosecutors have all too often inserted themselves into the political process based on the flimsiest of legal theories.”
“We have seen this time and again, with prosecutors bringing ill-conceived charges against prominent political figures, or launching debilitating investigations that thrust the Justice Department into the middle of the political process and preempt the ability of the people to decide.”
As he later drew to a close, Barr remarked, “It is utterly unsurprising that prosecutors continue to do so today to the extent the Justice Department’s leaders will permit it. As long as I am Attorney General, we will not.”
One case that Barr may have been alluding to was the prosecution of former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone. The 67-year-old Stone was initially facing a sentence of up to 108 months for non-violent offenses.
Barr determined that the proposed punishment was too severe and intervened to seek a lighter sentence, causing four of the attorneys involved to step down in protest.
The attorney general’s remarks were greeted with outrage from some, including former Watergate assistant special prosecutor Nick Akerman.
“I never thought we would see a blow-up from him like this,” The Washington Times quoted Akerman as saying. “There is no reason for him to go after the line prosecutors because he is doing whatever he wants regardless.” Akerman alleged that Barr’s statements “confirm what we already know: that he is an arm of the Trump re-election campaign.”