Donald Trump was surprised and angered by the Justice Department’s decision not to charge Andrew McCabe with crimes, but the president is wary of acting against the former deputy FBI director out of concern he might push Attorney General William Barr to resign, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department gave the White House no advance notice of its decision on McCabe, meaning Trump found out along with the public when it was announced on Tuesday, three of the people said. That created fresh point of potential tension between Trump and Barr, who has publicly criticized Trump’s tweets about criminal cases DOJ is pursuing and has privately told associates he may quit.
The president is weighing his options to respond to the Justice Department’s non-prosecution decision on McCabe, but it isn’t clear he can do anything, the people said. He is aware that he should proceed delicately, given Barr’s position, they said.
The people asked not to be identified discussing the president’s private deliberations. The White House and Justice Department communications staff declined to comment.
Trump’s frustration with McCabe’s case is related to his concern about the Justice Department’s prosecution of his friend and former associate Roger Stone, who was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress and threatening a witness in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump believes the justice system is applying a double standard to political cases, with his allies receiving far harsher treatment than his opponents.
Trump could order Barr or FBI Director Christopher Wray to open an investigation into McCabe, although they’d be under no obligation to comply. Such a move might force them to resign.
Barr said in a Feb. 13 interview with ABC News that he wouldn’t carry out such an order. “If he were to say go investigate somebody because — and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent — then the attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out,” he said.
Wray recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he has never been asked to open an improper investigation.
Trump publicly bemoaned the McCabe situation on Thursday, tweeting a remark from a Fox News guest that the decision to not prosecute was “utterly inexplicable.” Shortly after, speaking in Las Vegas, he linked the cases of Stone and McCabe.
“What happened to him is unbelievable,” Trump said of Stone. “They said he lied, but other people lied too.” He went on to cite McCabe along with former FBI director James Comey.
“Comey lied, McCabe lied, Lisa Page lied, her lover, Strzok, Peter Strzok, lied,” Trump said, referring to a former FBI attorney and agent. He left open the possibility of an eventual Stone pardon.
“I’m going to watch the process, I’m going to watch it very closely, and at some point I’ll make a determination. But Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly, and this has not been a fair process,” Trump said.
“I’m here to make a fair system,” Trump said.
Barr complained in the ABC interview that Trump’s public remarks on the cases made his job “impossible.” But he has also ordered a review of the prosecution of former Trump adviser Michael Flynn, the latest politically sensitive intervention into a case with a defendant linked to the president.
“I do make his job harder, I do agree with that, I think that’s true,” Trump said earlier this week after he was asked about Barr’s remarks. “He’s a very straight shooter, we have a great attorney general, and he’s working very hard. And he’s working against a lot of people that don’t want to see good things happen, in my opinion.”
But he said his social media posts would continue. “In the media, I don’t get that voice. So I’m allowed to have a voice,” he said.
— With assistance by Josh Wingrove
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