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May 20, 2019, 6:46 p.m. EDT

Barr says he’s defending the presidency, not Trump

Attorney general has come under fire for moving to protect presidential power

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By Sadie Gurman

U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies on Capitol Hill on May 1.

As President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr has come under criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans who say he is acting more like the president’s personal lawyer than the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.

But Barr, who as a private citizen bristled at the barrage of legal and other challenges Trump faced during his first two years in office, says his long-held belief in executive power is more about protecting the presidency than the current officeholder. “I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump, and I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul,” Barr said.

That sentiment plus coaxing from friends led the 68-year-old grandfather of five to sign on for another turn at the helm of the Justice Department, where his quest to protect presidential power has taken on new significance in light of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the Trump administration’s effort to thwart congressional oversight.

“At every grave juncture the presidency has done what it is supposed to do, which is to provide leadership and direction,” he said in an interview. “If you destroy the presidency and make it an errand boy for Congress, we’re going to be a much weaker and more divided nation.”

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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