"Enjoy your life": Trump puts the new Attorney General in a delicate position from the start

Attorney General William P. Barr, in the center, listens to President Trump announce a national emergency in the White House Rose Garden on Friday. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

On his first full day as Attorney General of William P. Barr, President Trump singled him out during a speech at the Rose Garden after signing a national emergency declaration aimed at build its long-promised border wall.

"I wish our Attorney General a lot of luck and speed, and enjoy your life. Bill, good luck, "Trump told him during Friday's ceremony, drawing a light laugh from the others, who may have remembered the many ways Barr President Jeff Sessions was tormented by President Barr .

In the days that followed, Trump sent over a dozen messages to his 58 million followers on Twitter, reminding him of his critics of the Department of Justice, which Barr now runs, or officials who have preceded it. President called the investigation of Russia a "witch hunt" totally "conflictual, illegal and rigged!". assaulted Former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe has been described as "dishonored". He also stated that McCabe's assertion that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had spoken of the idea of ​​using the 25th Amendment to Truth was tantamount to treason. Attempt to "hit".

McCabe "and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), seem to have planned a very illegal act and got caught," Trump tweeted on monday. ". . . It was the illegal "insurance policy" and traitor in action! "

Although Trump's animosity was not directed at Barr – in fact, he praised it – it nevertheless puts the Attorney General in a particularly delicate position when starting his work.

People who know him say that Barr strives to maintain his reputation as a relatively independent and principled leader, while simultaneously responding to the pressure of his boss, who demands loyalty from his nominees and candidates, and frequently denigrates the Department of Justice as part of its investigation. conduct.

"William Barr has been attorney general before, but no prosecutor in our history – literally – has been ruled by a president who has such contempt for the rule of law, the judicial process and the application of the law in general, "said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D -Conn.), Member of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate. "It's:" Get on, because it's going to be a crazy race, Mr. Barr. You have not seen anything yet.

Until now, Barr has kept a low profile and spent most of his time getting acquainted with the way he ran the department he ran for over 25 years, in the George HW The Bush administration is working today.

He has not publicly commented on Trump's comments in recent days. But shortly after he was confirmed by the Senate last week, he wrote in a memorandum addressed to Justice Department employees: Times have changed, not only with respect to the threats to the forces of the Department of Justice. 39, federal order must face, but also under the microscope.

"Technological advances have created new threats, new tools to address these threats, and new opportunities," said Barr. "And the Department has been facing increasingly critical scrutiny from all sides as news cycles have gone from days, in hours, to nanoseconds."

The only reference to Trump was that Barr expressed his gratitude "to the President for his confidence in me and for the opportunity to lead the department and serve the nation again".

The Attorney General's candidate, William P. Barr, sips coffee in the Senate Majority's Office, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) At Capitol Hill on January 10. (Calla Kessler / The Washington Post)

On Tuesday, Barr invited Justice Department employees to go to his office for an open house, and assistants said he had paid for the refreshments from his own pocket. Some department staff said that Barr's confirmation had stimulated the spirit, which had sunk after Trump had asked Sessions to resign and replaced him with Matthew G. Whitaker, whose skills as Acting Attorney General. had been questioned.

Whitaker remains at the Ministry of Justice as senior advisor to the Deputy Attorney General's office, but is expected to leave soon, said people familiar with the case.

"It's a new day here," said an official from the Justice Ministry who was not allowed to speak in the minutes and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Barr is perceived internally as a "lawyer", he said, and seems to be less politicized than Sessions or Whitaker. He is highly respected within the department as well as in conservative legal circles, having worked extensively as a corporate lawyer and at the Department of Justice previously as Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and Bureau Chief. legal advice.

"He runs a very effective and principled organization, and I fully expect people to react in a very positive way," said George Terwilliger, former Deputy Attorney General and Barr's close friend.

Joyce Vance, a former US Obama lawyer and Trump critic, said Barr would be tested early.

"Barr, if he wants to be the people's advocate and not the president's advocate, is going to have to step on the heights, not just in his private relations within the Department of Justice, but in public, "said Vance. "He'll have to make it clear that in individual criminal investigations, he is independent of the White House and that this president does not want an attorney general."

The fact that his son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey, a Justice Department lawyer, has recently started working at the White House lawyer's office complicates Barr's position. McGaughey, who had been prosecuting serious crimes in the US Attorney's Office in Alexandria, was among the lawyers for several of his lawyers who were sent to the White House. McGaughey asked for the posting before Barr's appointment to the position of Attorney General, according to people familiar with the situation.

Barr was also named Attorney General, just as McCabe was participating in a media blitz to promote his new book, "The threat: how the FBI protects America in the era of terror and trump. "

McCabe has posted behind-the-scenes unflattering details of his discussions with and about Trump. In recent interviews, he described how he had opened an investigation into Trump personally following the dismissal of James B. Comey by the FBI's president in May 2017 – and how officials had envisioned even greater measures. dramatic. McCabe particularly singled out Rosenstein, the current Justice Department's No. 2 official. McCabe says Rosenstein raised the question of which cabinet member could support the use of the 25th amendment of Trump, as well as the idea of ​​carrying a thread to the White House to secretly record what the president was saying.

The charges first appeared at the end of last year and almost cost Rosenstein his job at the time. McCabe's television tour last week seemed to ignite these old wounds. On Twitter, Trump takes on McCabe and Rosenstein. he city Conservative commentator Dan Bongino said Monday about "Fox & Friends," "It was an illegal coup attempt against the US president." He also referred to the ongoing criminal investigation into McCabe for allegedly that he had lied to investigators who were seeking revelation in the media.

"Wow, so many lies are now dishonored by FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe," tweeted. "He was fired for lying, and now his story is even more disturbing."

Although Trump's comment about Rosenstein might be perceived as a pressure on Barr to remove him as deputy attorney general, this dice had already been launched. Rosenstein said for weeks that he was planning to retire shortly after Barr's confirmation, and Barr – as a condition for holding this position – insisted on choosing his own vice president.

A justice ministry official said Monday that Rosenstein had planned to withdraw in mid-March for reasons unrelated to McCabe's allegations. The administration is expected to announce in the coming days that Trump will appoint Jeffrey Rosen – the Undersecretary of Transport, who previously worked at Kirkland & Ellis, the company Barr had previously worked in – to replace him.

Trump's recent comments foreshadow what might be a tense reality for Barr: the president could attack him or the department he runs in order to defy the norms of history.

"The bed was on fire when it came in, so to speak," said Blumenthal.

When Sessions was the country's top law enforcement official, Trump undermined him and cut him down, even stating at one point that he did not have a Attorney General. Sessions offusqua the challenge of Sessions under the control of the investigation led by the special advocate Robert S. Mueller III in Russia, because of his conflict of interest as a substitute of the Trump Supreme Campaign, a problem that Barr does not face.

Barr and the Department of Justice have not responded to Trump's recent tweets and, in some ways, have their hands tied. In addition to facing a possible criminal exposure, McCabe announced his intention to sue the ministry for his dismissal, which he considered a reprisal for initiating an investigation into Trump. Barr's comments could have an impact on the McCabe criminal investigation and the pending lawsuit litigation.

Some Justice Department officials were worried about the speed with which McCabe opened an investigation into Trump, people familiar with the case said. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Is committed to investigating the matter, using subpoenas if necessary.

If there had been impropriety – on the part of Rosenstein, McCabe or any other person – it would be up to Barr to determine whether they were facing disciplinary action or whether departmental policies needed to be addressed. switch.

"Clearly, these are issues that cause deep concern and questions about what was happening inside the FBI at the time," Terwilliger said.

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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