There are two key ways a president can abuse the Justice Department and federal prosecutorial powers: he can protect his friends, and he can go after his enemies.
In recent days and months, especially with developments around the Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases, observers have been deeply concerned that President Donald Trump is engaging in the first kind of abuse. But according to a new report from the Washington Post, what Trump really cares about — and what he is really furious hasn’t happened yet — is the prosecution of his enemies.
The report explained:
Behind that public fight, according to people familiar with the discussions, is a deeper tension between Trump and Barr’s Justice Department over the lack of criminal charges against former FBI director James B. Comey and those close to him.
The flare-up over the Stone case comes against a backdrop of growing behind-the-scenes anger from the president toward the Justice Department — more about whom the department has not charged with crimes than about whom it has charged, according to people familiar with the discussions
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred Comey’s handling of the memos to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution, but lawyers quickly determined it was not a close call and did not seek to build a case.
That sent Trump into a rage, according to people briefed on his comments. He complained so loudly and swore so frequently in the Oval Office that some of his aides discussed it for days, these people said. Trump repeatedly said that Comey deserved to be charged, according to their account.
“Can you [expletive] believe they didn’t charge him?” Trump said on the night of the decision, these people said.
It’s not just Comey. The report noted that Trump has also been eager to see charges against Comey’s former deputy, Andrew McCabe. And Trump also reportedly became enraged when the Washington Post reported in January that U.S. Attorney John Huber’s investigation into vague allegations about Hillary Clinton came up dry. (Trump had asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into Clinton, according to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.)
The Post continued:
Separately, Barr has tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether any crimes were committed by FBI and CIA officials in the pursuit of allegations in 2016 that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump’s campaign.
After learning that the Huber investigation is not likely to produce charges, Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon, according to people familiar with the discussions. Trump, these people said, wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign.
All of that frustration has fed into the public fight over the Stone case.
What’s not clear from the report is how much Trump has directly expressed this anger and desire for prosecutions to Barr himself. On Thursday, Barr claimed in an interview with ABC News that Trump hasn’t asked him to do anything in a criminal case. It’s not clear if that’s true — but even if Trump hasn’t made his demands explicit to Barr, there’s no doubt the attorney general knows what’s expected of him.