WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump slapped back Friday at one of his most loyal Cabinet secretaries, a day after Attorney General William Barr took the rare step of rebuking his boss in public, complaining that the president's tweets and public statements on criminal cases were making his job "impossible."
In response, Trump tweeted that he had a "legal right" to ask Barr to intervene in a criminal proceeding, a provocative assertion that raised alarms over whether the Justice Department could remain an impartial law enforcement agency, free from political pressure.
The sparring added to days of anger and tumult in the Justice Department after the president slammed career prosecutors who had sought a stiff prison term for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, and Barr overruled their sentencing recommendation. The four prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest; one of them resigned.
Barr has been one of Trump's most helpful defenders -- choreographing what critics called a misleading public release last spring of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and opening investigations into former Justice Department officials whom Trump has publicly criticized.
In a decision likely to rankle the president, however, the Justice Department closed a politically sensitive criminal investigation Friday into former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, one of Trump's regular punching bags at campaign rallies and on Twitter for his role in Russia investigation.
McCabe was fired in March 2018, less than two days before he was scheduled to retire and collect his pension, over allegations that he had lied to investigators about disclosures of sensitive information to a reporter. Any prosecution would have been hampered by Trump's harsh comments and tweets about McCabe, according to former prosecutors.
"At long last, justice has been done in this matter," McCabe's lawyers said in a statement Friday. "We said at the outset of the criminal investigation, almost two years ago, that if the facts and the law determined the result, no charges would be brought."
Since taking office, Trump has lashed out even at close allies whom he deems disloyal. But since the Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges last week, he has settled scores large and small, exacting payback against a highly decorated Army officer at the White House, a U.S. diplomat in Europe, a senior Treasury Department nominee, and others, for their role in the impeachment and other investigations.
Although Stone was convicted of seven felonies, reports that prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years in prison appeared to outrage the president. After denouncing it as a "miscarriage of justice," Trump sharply criticized the prosecutors, the federal judge and even the forewoman of the jury, suggesting she "had significant bias."
Trump also cast off other traditional limits on his executive authority. On Thursday, shortly before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the White House to seek relief from new restrictions on New York residents who return from overseas travel, the president tweeted that New York "must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment" of his businesses and taxes.