President Trump has found his dream attorney general in William Barr. We already knew this, considering how Barr worked last year to obscure special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings (and then some), but the bromance between the president and the head of the Justice Department, which in a functioning government would operate independently, just keeps getting richer.
The latest chapter came on Tuesday, when Barr intervened in the case of Roger Stone, ostensibly because Trump tweeted that it was “horrible and very unfair” that federal prosecutors recommended a seven-to-nine-year prison sentence for Stone, his former adviser, who has been convicted of witness tampering and lying to Congress throughout Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Not long after Trump’s tweet, the Justice Department announced it would revise the sentencing recommendation. “That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” an anonymous DOJ official told reporters. “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
A representative later said the decision to do so was made before Trump tweeted about the case. Regardless, on Wednesday morning Trump congratulated Barr for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.” The case against Stone is the final one by Mueller’s investigation, which has resulted in 34 indictments of individuals and eight guilty pleas or convictions, five of which came from Trump’s associates or campaign officials. Though Stone did not work for Trump’s campaign, he was a close adviser to the president.
Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Not everyone was as pleased with the reversal as Trump. Following the decision to reconsider the recommendation for Stone’s sentence on Tuesday, four career prosecutors working on the case withdrew from it in protest. One of them, Jonathan Kravis, resigned from the Justice Department outright. Trump proceeded to bash them on Twitter, writing that they “cut and ran after being exposed.”
Also troubled by the reversal was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wrote a letter calling for the DOJ’s inspector general to investigate the decision to revise the recommendation. “Dear Senate Republicans: President Trump didn’t learn any ‘lessons’ when you excused his abuse of power,” Schumer tweeted Wednesday morning. “And now you are responsible for every new abuse he commits.”
To the DOJ Inspector General:
I’m calling for an immediate investigation of why the Roger Stone sentencing recommendations by career prosecutors were countermanded.
The American people must have confidence that justice in this country is dispensed impartially. pic.twitter.com/vaBtC1FlUI
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 12, 2020
Trump’s wrath was not confined to the attorneys working the case. He also took aim at the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who had handled one of the criminal cases against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager who was convicted of a cornucopia of financial crimes. “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump wrote. (It was not the judge’s decision to place Manafort in solitary, The New York Times noted. That was a decision for prison officials.)
In a development that could possibly be connected, the president also on Tuesday withdrew his nomination of Jessie Liu to become the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, according to Axios. As the top U.S. attorney in D.C., Liu had been overseeing Stone’s case. She stepped down from the U.S. attorney’s office last month after Trump announced his intention to nominate her to the Treasury post, and she was replaced on an interim basis by former Barr counselor Timothy Shea. There has been no comment from the White House on why Trump withdrew Liu’s nomination.
Stone is expected to be sentenced on February 20th. The revised sentencing memo, in which the Justice Department bashed its own attorneys while deferring a recommendation to the court, was signed by Shea.