Upping the ante, Trump targets federal judge, prosecutors (again)

Bill Barr said Trump's intervention in Justice Department matters makes it "impossible" for him to do his job. Clearly, the president doesn't care.
Image: US-ECUADOR-DIPLOMACY
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with the president of the Republic of Ecuador at the White House on Feb. 12, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Five days ago, Attorney General Bill Barr sat down with ABC News and expressed a degree of discomfort with Donald Trump's efforts to intervene in Justice Department matters. The president's political efforts, Barr argued, "make it impossible for me to do my job."

The attorney general's rhetoric was not to be taken at face value. On the contrary, given the broader circumstances, Barr seemed to be signaling to the White House that Trump's intervention was making it difficult for the attorney general to misuse the powers of federal law enforcement in cases of interest to the president. Or put another way, Barr prefers quiet corruption, and Trump was getting in the way by shining a light on the abuses.

Nevertheless, the day after the attorney general said Trump should stop tweeting about matters pertaining to the Justice Department and its work, he tweeted about matters pertaining to the Justice Department and its work. This morning, as the New York Times reported, the president did it again.

President Trump threatened on Tuesday to sue "everyone" involved in the now-closed special counsel inquiry and continued his attacks on the federal case against his longtime friend and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr.

Apparently quoting commentary he saw on Fox News, Trump took aim at U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, suggesting she should give Stone, one of the president's felonious friends, a new trial ahead of his scheduled sentencing. (There was an ironic angle to the missive: Trump was quoting Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who's had plenty of critical things to say about the president throughout the Ukraine scandal.)

As part of the same online presidential tantrum, Trump went on to lash out at former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, federal investigators, and the entirety of the special counsel's office investigation. The president, who has a strange habit of threatening to sue perceived rivals without following through, added, "If I wasn't President, I'd be suing everyone all over the place. BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!"

It's good to know the pressures of the job aren't affecting the nation's first amateur president.

The brazenness of Trump's antics is obviously remarkable. After a week of scandal involving the breakdowns in the American rule of law, the sitting president, unembarrassed and unconcerned with legal constraints, appears eager to flaunt his indifference. Part of this likely stems from his recent acquittal in an impeachment trial -- during which Senate Republicans effectively admitted that they're willing to ignore Trump's guilt -- but the other part almost certainly relates to Trump's desire to be seen abusing the system.

As we discussed on Friday, subtleties do the president no favors. By bragging about his professed ability to intervene in criminal cases -- whenever he wants, to any extent he wants -- Trump may very well want his allies to know they'll be protected, while simultaneously signaling to his enemies that they'll be hunted.

And it's at this point that the spotlight shifts back to Bill Barr. If Trump's intervention makes it "impossible" for him to do his job, and the president continues to intervene anyway, should we expect the attorney general to tender his resignation?

Postscript: Trump tweeted pressure at a judge while the Federal Judges Association holds an emergency meeting in response to Trump's intervention in criminal cases. He's effectively thumbing his nose at the judiciary.