Attorney General William Barr has told people he’s considered resigning over President Donald Trump’s interference with Justice Department matters, particularly the President’s tweets, according to a source close to the situation.
While it’s not clear if Barr is serious about potentially resigning or looking to send Trump a message, those discussions punctuate a palpable tension between Trump and Barr in recent days after the Justice Department was roiled by a cascade of controversies this past week, a separate source said, adding that the two appear to be in a cooling-off period after Barr’s remarkable interview with ABC News.
“I think they have calmed down. I think they’re cooling off,” the source said.
Barr has been frustrated with the President chiming in on federal law enforcement matters in recent weeks, which he has made clear privately to Trump, though people close to the President said it’s unlikely he will stop and pointed out that Trump weighed in on Justice Department issues long before Barr took the job. So far, Trump has ignored Barr’s requests to stop weighing in, though some inside the administration have raised questions about whether the attorney general is seriously considering resigning or simply attempting to send a message to Trump.
Barr is also not the first of the President’s top aides to threaten his resignation after a disagreement with him; former chief of staff John Kelly did similar on multiple occasions, according to several officials.
The President and attorney general have been closely aligned since Barr was sworn in a little more than a year ago. The attorney general has an expansive view of executive power and has has received criticism from Democrats, and even some Republicans, for intervening on Trump’s behalf in sensitive situations, such as the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and taking on investigations that are politically important to the President.
Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec tweeted Tuesday night that Barr “has no plans to resign.” The Washington Post was first to report that Barr has considered resigning.
The closeness between Trump and Barr made it all the more striking when the attorney general attempted to publicly distance himself from some of the President’s controversial tweets on Justice Department cases last week.
Barr said in an interview with ABC News that Trump’s tweets and statements on the Justice Department’s work were making his job impossible. But Trump publicly backed his attorney general in comments on Tuesday.
“I have total confidence in my attorney general,” he told reporters before departing Washington for California. “I think he’s doing an excellent job. He’s a strong guy.” Trump conceded, however, that he was making Barr’s job more difficult.
“I do make his job harder,” Trump said. “I do agree with that. I think that’s true.”
A senior White House aide told CNN the possibility of Barr resigning is “a serious issue” but held that “with the strong alignment between the President and the attorney general on so many other issues, the odds are high that they’ll craft a way forward here which best serves the administration.”
Barr was at the White House Tuesday for a previously scheduled lunch with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, according to a Justice Department official and a source familiar with the matter.
News that Barr has considered resigning follows days of mounting scrutiny over his role in the fraught decision to publicly disavow prosecutors who had sought a stiff punishment for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Trump.
The President had tweeted congratulations Barr for the move, provoking outcry from Democrats who demanded an investigation. The four career attorneys who had worked on the Stone case and signed off on the original sentencing memorandum each withdrew from the case on Tuesday in an apparent protest.
In his ABC News interview Thursday, Barr explained the discrepancy at the heart of the public spat this week over the Stone sentencing and blamed a late night tweet from the President for creating the environment that evoked outrage from the left.
Late last week, Barr also ordered a re-examination of several high-profile cases, including that of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The decisions prompted more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials to sign a statement calling on Barr to resign.
Yet, even amidst the heightened scrutiny, soon after Trump’s vote of confidence Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham released a rare joint statement in support of Barr, saying that “suggestions from outside groups that the Attorney General has fallen short of the responsibilities of his office are unfounded.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.