A day after Attorney General William Barr publicly warned President Donald Trump not to tweet about the Justice Department, Trump did just that, declaring that he has the "legal right" to ask his top law enforcement official to get involved in a criminal case.
In his tweet, Trump quoted Barr from a television interview Thursday in which he asserted that the president had never asked him to do anything related to a criminal case.
"This doesn't mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!" Trump added in his own voice.
His tweet followed a remarkable interview with ABC News, in which Barr said, "I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases," adding that such statements "about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we're doing our work with integrity."
The public rebuke of the president by a sitting member of his Cabinet arose from a crisis of confidence at the Justice Department, which had been accused this week of buckling to an angry tweet the president issued after learning of prosecutors' initial prison recommendation for his longtime friend, Roger Stone.
Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Trump's latest tweet.
In the ABC interview, Barr said Trump would be within his rights to ask for an investigation in an area that didn't affect his personal interest - such as in a terrorism case or fraud by a bank. But he said an attorney general would not listen to an order to investigate a political opponent.
Trump has publicly and privately raged in recent months about wanting investigations of those he sees as enemies, including former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, former FBI director James B. Comey and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
"If he were to say go investigate somebody, and you sense it's because they're a political opponent, then an attorney general shouldn't carry that out, wouldn't carry that out," Barr said.
A federal jury convicted Stone in November on charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his efforts to gather damaging information about Trump's 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton.
On Tuesday, Trump criticized as unduly harsh the initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years made by front-line prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department signaled that it would seek a more lenient sentence for Stone, a move that prompted the four career prosecutors to withdraw from the case - and one to resign from the government.
Barr has said the decision was made before Trump's tweet on the matter.