Attorney General Bill Barr scoffed at concerns over politically-appointed officials such as himself exerting influence in prosecutors’ operations on Wednesday night as he comes under fire for meddling in the Justice Department’s cases involving President Donald Trump’s associates.
“Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any,” the attorney general said during his opening speech at an event honoring Constitution Day at Hillsdale College. “Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.”
“Good leaders at the Justice Department—as at any organization—need to trust and support their subordinates,” Barr continued. “But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.”
He argued that prosecutors “do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions” and that attorneys general “are most equipped to make the complex judgment calls concerning how we should wield our prosecutorial power.”
“In short, the Attorney General, senior DOJ officials, and U.S. Attorneys are indeed political,” Barr stated. “But they are political in a good and necessary sense.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, the attorney general also accused certain officials at his own department of “headhunting.”
“I’d like to be able to say that we don’t see headhunting in the Department of Justice,” he told the audience. “That would not be truthful. I see it every day.”
Barr made the comments in wake of the backlash from prosecutors over his push to water down the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a Trump confidante, and to dismiss the criminal case of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. The attorney general has also been working to delegitimize Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which the President has repeatedly smeared as a “witch hunt.”
Barr also reportedly moved to dispute the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, last year.