“Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,” Barr said. “Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.”
Barr's comments appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to the fracas that arose ahead of the February sentencing of Trump confidant Roger Stone. In that case, Barr overruled the sentencing recommendation of the line prosecutors in favor of a lighter punishment. The move prompted the entire trial team to quit before Stone's sentencing hearing. Barr has defended his intervention as in the interests of justice.
In May, he sought the dismissal of the criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to lying to the FBI. Barr's request is tied up in a court fight.
Though Barr was accused of undue intervention on behalf of the president's associates, he bristled in his speech Wednesday night at the idea that it was even possible for an attorney general to meddle in the affairs of a department that he leads.
“Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any,” Barr said.
He added: “Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency. Good leaders at the Justice Department — as at any organization — need to trust and support their subordinates. But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.”
He also took a veiled swipe at members of Mueller's team. He suggested that the Trump administration had been more successful than the Obama administration before the Supreme Court, and that one reason for that was that the Obama administration had some of the people who were later on Mueller's team writing their briefs for the court.
That appeared to be a reference to Michael Dreeben, a highly respected lawyer who argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, during a decades-long career in the Justice Department's solicitor general's office. Dreeben was a senior member of Mueller's team.
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