Over the weekend, more than 1100 former prosecutors and officials who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed onto an open letter that condemned the president and the attorney general over the handing of the Stone case.
“Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” they write in a letter published on Medium.
They note that they took “an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans.”
They also note the DOJ rulebook for its lawyers. Among the rules: “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”
This is the latest in a series of events in an escalating new crisis for an administration that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Last Monday, prosecutors, based on federal sentencing guidelines recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Roger Stone, who had been convicted of obstruction of justice and interfering in a congressional injury.
After President Trump lashed out at federal law enforcement, senior officials in the department, the AG included, overrode the recommendation with a more lenient one which prompted allegations of political interference and the four attorneys on the case, abruptly withdrew in protest.
President Trump congratulated AG Barr on the decision, but this only exacerbated the problem.
William Barr would fire back, telling the President that his statements undermined him as well as the department.
“I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” Mr. Barr said during a televised interview on Thursday with ABC News.
The lawyers charge that the core mission of the DOJ is “to ensure equal justice under the law” and that “President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes.”
They note, “it is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case.”
They add, “It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.”
They believe: “Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President.”
They add: “Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”
The lawyers write that they welcome the acknowledge by AG Barr that “the DOJ’s law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics; that it is wrong for the President to interfere in specific enforcement matters, either to punish his opponents or to help his friends; and that the President’s public comments on DOJ matters have gravely damaged the Department’s credibility.”
However, they argue: “Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words.”
David Frumm writing for the Atlantic, sarcastically noted: “Barr has been intervening in cases in ways that work to protect the president. Those interventions become much more difficult when the president demands them—rather than trusting Barr to know what to do without being told.”
On Friday, the Boston Globe called on William Barr to resign. The Globe in a pointed editorial points out that the Attorney General is not “just a personal lackey or counsel to the president, but rather the attorney general of the United States.”
They write: “The attorney general, while a political appointee, is bound first and foremost not to the whims and personal interests of the president, but to the law.” Indeed, a lesson of the Watergate scandal they point out is that “the Justice Department should act independently from the White House when it comes to individual criminal cases.”
But instead, “Barr never seems to have gotten that message. His tenure has been defined by dismantling the norm of the Justice Department’s independence from partisan politics and the president’s personal interests. His intervention in criminal proceedings against one of the president’s friends last week, a wildly inappropriate move that led to the resignation of four federal prosecutors from the case, was only the latest travesty on Barr’s watch.”
The Globe argues: “In isolation, this interference alone could be sufficient grounds to deem that the attorney general is following the president’s playbook of rewarding criminal loyalists and punishing patriots he deems disloyal to his interests instead of upholding impartial justice. But it is only the latest in a litany of offenses that Barr has inflicted on the rule of law since he was confirmed to the post on Valentine’s Day 2019.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting reporting