As of Monday, over 2,000 former Justice Department lawyers had signed a letter demanding Attorney General Bill Barr’s resignation over his handling of the Roger Stone case.
Barr’s decision to seek a lighter sentence for Stone, a former confidant of President Donald Trump, than the seven-to-nine-year punishment recommended by line prosecutors is just another example of Barr “doing the president’s personal bidding,” the lawyers dramatically warned in a letter posted to Medium on Sunday, according to The Hill.
A message to Barr
Barr has been dogged by attacks from Democrats, the media, and liberal lawyers since he first rose to the attorney general’s office roughly a year ago. His decision last week to overrule line prosecutors in Stone’s case was met with instant backlash, as Democrats dredged up old claims dating to the Robert Mueller saga that Barr has transformed the Justice Department into a weapon for settling Donald Trump’s personal scores.
Prosecutors recommended up to nine years in prison for Stone’s convictions of lying to Congress and witness tampering in connection with conversations he had about WikiLeaks. When Barr moved to intervene after Trump began angrily tweeting about Stone’s treatment in the case, Democrats accused Barr of trying to help Stone at Trump’s behest and ramped up calls for Barr to resign, or even face impeachment.
Trump thanked Barr for “taking charge,” but the DOJ has said that the decision to curtail Stone’s punishment came before Trump’s tweetstorm. Still, writing Sunday, the ex-Justice Department lawyers weren’t convinced.
“Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, 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,” the lawyers wrote.
In an interview with ABC on Thursday, Barr denied that there was any pressure from Trump and pointedly rebuked the president for his constant tweeting about the case, which he said is making it “impossible” for him to do his job. For his part, Trump maintained Friday that he has the “legal right” to intervene in DOJ cases, although he is loath to use it.
Democrats and their allies in the media have repeatedly accused Barr of sabotaging the independence of the Justice Department to help Trump by “spinning” the Mueller report, investigating the origins of Mueller’s probe, saying that factually-established “spying” on Trump’s campaign occurred, and other imagined betrayals. Without specifics, the lawyers claimed that Trump and Barr “openly and repeatedly flouted” the rule of law and suggested that they were transforming the United States into a dictatorship.
“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 said.
The signatories commended the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case in protest and suggested that current DOJ officials follow their example. Since Barr will not resign, the noble burden falls to the rank-and-file to resist Barr’s plots, they said.
“For these reasons, we support and commend the four career prosecutors who upheld their oaths and stood up for the Department’s independence by withdrawing from the Stone case and/or resigning from the Department. Our simple message to them is that we — and millions of other Americans — stand with them,” they wrote. The lawyers went on:
And we call on every DOJ employee to follow their heroic example and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation.
Ironically, President Trump and many of his supporters argue that Stone’s harsh sentence was itself evidence that the rule of law had been thrown out by zealous, political prosecutors. Many had previously pointed to a pre-dawn raid on Stone’s home last year, with CNN lying in wait to capture it all on video, as evidence of malicious intent towards Stone by Robert Mueller’s team.
Stone’s case originated with the Mueller probe, which Trump maintains was a “witch hunt.” Trump has also said that there is a double standard in prosecutions, according to the New York Post, alleging that Democrats get off the hook for the same offenses that Republicans are punished for allegedly committing. Many Trump supporters were outraged but not surprised to learn Friday that Andrew McCabe, a top foe of Trump’s and James Comey’s former deputy, will not face charges for lying about leaks to the media.
Barr will testify before Congress on March 31 about the Stone case and other matters. Stone will be sentenced Thursday.