WASHINGTON • US Attorney-General William Barr has delivered an extraordinary rebuke of President Donald Trump, saying his attacks on the Justice Department had made it "impossible for me to do my job" and that "I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody".
Mr Barr has been among the President's most loyal allies while being denigrated by Democrats as nothing more than his personal lawyer, but on Thursday he publicly challenged Mr Trump in a way that no sitting Cabinet member has.
"Whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the President, I'm going to do what I think is right," he said in an interview with ABC News, echoing comments he made a year ago at his confirmation hearing. "I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me."
His remarks were aimed at containing the fallout from the department's botched handling of its sentencing recommendation for Mr Trump's long-time friend Roger Stone, who was convicted of seven felonies over a bid to obstruct a congressional investigation that threatened the President.
After prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, Mr Trump spent days attacking them, the department and the judge presiding over Stone's case.
Such tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity", Mr Barr said.
"It's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases."
Mr Trump did not immediately respond on Twitter, but his press secretary, Ms Stephanie Grisham, played down Mr Barr's remarks.
"The President wasn't bothered by the comments at all, and he has the right, just like every American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions," she said, adding that Mr Trump has confidence in his Attorney-General.
The fallout from the Stone episode threatened to spin out of control after the four prosecutors on the case withdrew from it and Mr Trump widened his attacks on law enforcement, thrusting Mr Barr into a full-blown crisis.
Republicans in Congress rushed to voice support for Mr Barr, urging the President to heed his advice. "If the Attorney-General says it's getting in the way of doing his job, maybe the President should listen," Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said in an interview on Fox News.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is close to the President, said in a statement that the Attorney-General was "the right man at the right time to reform the department and stand up for the rule of law".
Critics of the Attorney-General were loath to accept his comments at face value, seeing them mainly as a face-saving way to deflect responsibility for his own role in carrying out the President's political wishes.
Mr Joe Lockhart, a White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, said it was "impossible to believe" that after all he had done to advance Mr Trump's political interests, "now Barr is genuinely upset".
"The tell here will be Trump's reaction. If he doesn't lash out, we'll all know this was pure political theatre because everyone agrees Trump has no self-restraint."
In the interview with ABC, Mr Barr declared his independence in what amounted to an explicit challenge to a President who prizes loyalty over almost anything.
"The things I have most responsibility for are the issues that are brought to me for decision," said Mr Barr. "And I will make those decisions based on what I think is the right thing to do, and I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody."