Barr’s comments were remarkable in that the head of the Justice Department catalogued all of the ways in which he thought his agency had gone astray over the years, and in its current formulation harms the body politic. Barr has drawn considerable criticism for intervening in criminal cases in ways that help benefit the president’s friends.

The attorney general said it was he, not career officials, who has the ultimate authority to decide how cases should be handled, and he derided less-experienced, less-senior bureaucrats who current and former prosecutors have long insisted should be left to handle their cases free from interference from political appointees.

Barr said that argument, in essence, means “the will of the most junior member of the organization” would determine decisions, but he insisted he would not “blindly” defer to “whatever those subordinates want to do.”

“Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” he said.