Top congressional Republicans issued a joint statement Tuesday in defense of Attorney General Bill Barr, who has faced renewed Democratic calls to step aside after he overruled line prosecutors' nine-year sentencing recommendation for former Trump aide Roger Stone.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., emphasized that Barr has the "highest character and unquestionable integrity" – and they said Democrats' efforts to "intimidate" him would fail spectacularly.
“Suggestions from outside groups that the attorney general has fallen short of the responsibilities of his office are unfounded," the Republican leaders wrote, in an apparent shot at Protect Democracy – a left-wing organization that solicited signatures from more than 1,000 ex-DOJ officials to call for Barr's resignation in the guise of a nonpartisan effort.
"The attorney general has shown that he is committed without qualification to securing equal justice under law for all Americans," the statement continued, after noting that Barr had been confirmed by the Senate "four times to positions of the utmost public trust" in his career.
“The American system of government is only as strong as the public servants who are willing to preserve, protect and defend it," the congressional Republicans added. "The nation is fortunate that President Trump chose such a strong and selfless public servant to lead the Department of Justice. We expect that, as always, efforts to intimidate the attorney general will fall woefully short.”
The Federal Judges Association, meanwhile, said it was holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the DOJ's handling of the Stone case. That group is a voluntary assembly of Article III judges.
"We expect that, as always, efforts to intimidate the attorney general will fall woefully short.”
President Trump, for his part, has insisted he stands behind Barr, even though the attorney general issued a rare rebuke of the president, saying his tweeting can make it "impossible" to do his job at the DOJ.
"I have total confidence in my attorney general," Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “I do make his job harder. I do agree on that. ... We have a great attorney general and he’s working very hard.”
Trump also slammed the Stone prosecutors as "Mueller prosecutors," referring to the way that DOJ prosecutors who had been assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe stayed behind even after the special counsel's office closed to work on cases like Stone's. The president further suggested he might take legal action.
At the same time, Trump asserted that he does have the "legal right" to intervene in criminal cases and sidestep the Justice Department's historic independence. As president, Trump technically has the right to compel the Justice Department, an executive branch agency, to open investigations.
But historically, when it comes to decisions on criminal investigations and prosecutions, Justice has functioned independently, unmoved and unbound by political sway.
Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, who served on Trump's impeachment defense team, backed up that idea in an interview on Sunday – but said it wouldn't be a good idea for the president to take an active role in DOJ matters. ("He shouldn't do it; it hasn't been done since Thomas Jefferson," Dershowitz said.)
Dershowitz also claimed he would soon reveal evidence that former President Barack Obama ordered an FBI probe on behalf of liberal billionaire financier George Soros. All presidents, Dershowitz said, have historically leaned on the DOJ to some extent.
Last week, it was revealed that federal prosecutors have been ordered to review the criminal case of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who faced a false statements charge – even as former Acting FBI Director Andy McCabe, who admitted to lying to federal authorities, was not charged. The U.S. attorney in St. Louis, Jeff Jensen, is working with Brandon Van Grack, a member of Mueller’s team, to review the Flynn case, a Justice Department official said.
Fox News' Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.