Justice Department bends to Trump in Roger Stone case
Four prosecutors withdrew in protest from the Justice Department’s case against Trump confidant Roger Stone after President Trump lashed out in defense of his onetime campaign aide and the Justice Department undercut their sentencing recommendations. Stone was convicted last November of lying to Congress about the leak of Russian-hacked Democratic campaign emails, and of pressuring a witness to do the same, in a case that grew out of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The DOJ had initially recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, following federal guidelines. Hours after Trump called that “horrible” and a “miscarriage of justice,” top Justice officials said they’d been blindsided by the “grossly disproportionate” recommendation by the prosecutors, and the department cut its recommended sentence down to three to four years. The House Judiciary Committee has called on Barr to testify in March, and the questioning is expected to include the decision to overrule career prosecutors.
The White House denied pressuring the DOJ, but Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control.” The president also denounced the “Mueller scam” and the “rogue prosecutors” who “cut and ran” by resigning, and suggested that the judge in Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, is biased against Trump aides. Trump also revoked his nomination of Jessie Liu, a former U.S. attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution, to a top Treasury Department post. Trump was defiant in the face of criticism, telling reporters he has “the absolute right” to intervene in Justice Department decisions.
What the columnists said
Barr has “decided to drop the charade,” said Bess Levin in VanityFair.com. He used to “go through the motions” to look independent. Finally, he’s doing Trump’s “dirty work” out in the open—“what a weight off his shoulders!” There was no legal basis for overriding sentencing guidelines and the DOJ’s own attorneys, said former federal prosecutor Michael Stern in USAToday.com. Now that Trump has successfully used the Justice Department as a political tool, “there’s no turning back.”
Stone, though, may not be worth getting worked up about, said Eddie Scarry in WashingtonExaminer.com. He’s a “67-year-old clownish figure who was convicted of being a harmless liar.” Two of the prosecutors in this case were “disgruntled” former deputies of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, said Sean Davis in TheFederalist.com. They bullied the DOJ into asking for a seven- to nine-year sentence based on “alleged threats” that Stone made to a witness who himself insists he never felt threatened. The DOJ was right to back off this excessive demand.
The “mass resignation” suggests there’s far more here than a disagreement about Stone’s sentence, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Before his Senate acquittal, Trump had been “restrained about flexing his muscles” to influence cases. He has yet to pardon any of his convicted campaign aides, including Paul Manafort. But now the president is ready to start “bestowing favors on his loyal defenders.” This is Trump unleashed and emboldened to put himself ahead of the law. “So much for the law-and-order president.” ■