Attorney General William Barr’s scalding criticism of some of his own Justice Department prosecutors grew partly from frustration with the accusation that he had improperly intervened in high-profile political cases, but those close to him insist it was also meant as a signal to those on the right calling for arrests of former officials whom President Donald Trump dislikes, reports the Washington Post. In a speech to a conservative audience, Barr said some prosecutors were “headhunters,” and that career staff must defer to him. He decried what he called the “criminalization of politics” and the lust among some pundits to charge officials with whom they disagree.
Current and former DOJ officials expressed a range of reactions to the speech, from outrage to mild disappointment to curiosity about whether Barr was trying to send a message about action in future cases. Some said Barr was attacking the institution he leads, seemingly ignoring that Trump has pushed for charges against those he considers political foes. Some people close to Barr said his speech was meant not just as a rejoinder to those on the left who have criticized his moves on cases involving Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and friend Roger Stone. Barr was also trying to temper conservatives’ hopes that, before Election Day, former senior officials once involved in investigating the president will be charged criminally, sources said. As president, Trump has repeatedly called for the prosecution of his political foes. When he was a candidate in 2016, his rallies frequently featured chants of “lock her up” in reference to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. One person familiar with Barr’s thinking said, “I dare to say that Barr would point to the ‘lock her up’ quotes as fitting squarely in the type of conduct that he views as problematic.”