Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended his right to intervene in Justice Department probes and overrule the decisions of career lawyers after facing accusations over the last several months that he has politicized the department.
“Because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones,” Barr said at an event hosted by Hillsdale College.
After Barr in February overruled a sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime associate, and recommended a more lenient sentence, some Democrats called for the attorney general to resign or face impeachment. The White House denied Trump had pressured the DOJ to show lenience to Stone.
Later in May, Barr also faced criticism for dropping the government’s case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI but eventually withdrew that plea.
“Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,” Barr said Wednesday. “Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.”
Earlier this month, reports broke that the DOJ is planning to bring antitrust charges against Google in the coming weeks after the attorney general decided to move forward over the objections of DOJ lawyers who say they need more preparation time to prosecute the massive technology company.
Some of the more than three dozen lawyers preparing the case against Google’s parent company Alphabet reportedly said they felt the deadline imposed on them by the DOJ to finish their work was arbitrary and could weaken their case. The prosecutors voiced concerns that Barr was prioritizing the antitrust case in order to take credit for cracking down on a large tech firm during the Trump administration. Justice Department officials instructed the lawyers to finish their preparations for the case by the end of September.
“Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” Barr said Wednesday.
“Advocating for clear and defined prohibitions will sometimes mean we cannot bring charges against someone whom we believe engaged in questionable conduct,” he continued. “But that is what it means to have a government of laws and not of men. We cannot let our desire to prosecute ‘bad’ people turn us into the functional equivalent of the mad emperor Caligula.”