Attorney General William Barr criticized his own Justice Department in a fiery speech Wednesday night, accusing them of “headhunting” high-profile targets while insisting he has absolute authority to overrule line prosecutors.
Speaking at an event hosted by Hillsdale College, Mr. Barr did not reference any specific cases. But his remarks appeared to address criticism of his involvement in cases the Justice Department has brought against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and political operative Roger Stone, both associates of President Trump.
“What exactly am I interfering with?” Mr. Barr asked. “Under the law, all prosecutorial power is invested in the attorney general.”
“Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct — there aren’t,” he said. “There aren’t any letting the most junior members set the agenda.”
“It might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” Mr. Barr continued.
The comments are likely to escalate the tension between Mr. Barr and some prosecutors working in U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country and even in the Justice Department itself, who have bristled at his decisions. Prosecutors in the Stone and Flynn cases resigned over what they decried as Mr. Barr’s heavy-handed tactics.
But Mr. Barr insisted it was he, not career prosecutors, who have the final say in cases. He said he would not “blindly” submit to “whatever those subordinates want to do.”
The comments were a shot at officials who claim prosecutors who have served in multiple administrations should be free from decisions of political appointees, like the attorney general.
“These people are agents of the attorney general,” he said. “As I say, FBI agents, whose agents do you think you are?”
“They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face for tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions,” Mr. Barr continued.
“In short, the attorney general, senior DOJ officials and U.S attorneys are indeed political. But they are political in a good and necessary sense,” he said.
Mr. Barr also accused prosecutors of seeking to “amass glory” by prosecuting high-profile people.
“I’d like to be able to say that we don’t see headhunting in the Department of Justice,” he said. “That would not be truthful. I see it every day.”
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