Attorney General Bill Barr has been attempting to do some damage control in response to the Roger Stone scandal, which emerged after the top Department of Justice officials intervened to reduce a sentencing recommendation for the veteran GOP operative after President Donald Trump posted an angry tweet.
But journalist Greg Sargent, in his Washington Post column on Friday, explains why Barr’s efforts at damage control are only making the attorney general look worse.
On Monday, the DOJ issued a sentencing memo recommending seven to nine years in federal prison for Stone, who in 2019, was convicted on seven criminal counts (including lying to Congress and witness tampering). But after Trump tweeted that the DOJ’s initial recommendations were “horrible and very unfair” and a “miscarriage of justice,” the DOJ recommended a much more lenient sentence the following day — inspiring four federal prosecutors who had been working on Stone’s case to withdraw from it in protest. One of them left the DOJ altogether.
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! https://t.co/rHPfYX6Vbv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
Barr’s “frantic exercise in damage control,” Sargent explains, includes an interview with ABC News and an assertion that he will not be “bullied or influenced by anybody” — and Barr urged Trump to not pressure law enforcement.
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody….whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president,” Bill Barr tells @ABC News.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 13, 2020
In his column, Sargent explains why Barr’s statements to ABC News make him look bad.
The columnist writes: “Barr was already preparing to implement the change when he was notified about Trump’s tweet — meaning Trump’s rage didn’t influence him. Barr claimed Trump’s tweet boxed him in; reversing the sentence would now smack of carrying out Trump’s bidding.”
He continued: “This account is actually very damning. The most charitable interpretation here is that Trump has openly sought to corrupt the process. By Barr’s own implicit admission, Trump’s rage could only be construed as an effort to manipulate law enforcement — after all, this is precisely what, by Barr’s account, boxed him in.”
Barr’s claim that Trump doesn’t direct him to intervene in investigations are “meaningless,” Sargent argued, “since Trump regularly demands prosecutions of his political opponents in public.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, isn’t the least bit impressed with the attorney general’s response to the scandal; Schiff, on Friday, tweeted that Barr is “only upset that Trump’s tweets made the political nature of his intervention obvious. Barr fools no one. He’s a witting accomplice to Trump’s attack on the rule of law.”
Barr admits he intervened in the sentencing of a man who lied to Congress to cover up for the President.
He’s only upset that Trump’s tweets made the political nature of his intervention obvious.
Barr fools no one. He’s a witting accomplice to Trump’s attack on the rule of law. https://t.co/Kz5tVMnlPo
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 14, 2020
Barr’s interview with ABC News, Sargent explains, “raises many new questions.” And to answer them, he argues, congressional Democrats need to “hear from the prosecutors themselves” — the people who withdrew and resigned after Barr’s intervention.
“Ideally, they can tell their side of the story leading up to this fiasco, recount why they thought the stiffer sentence was appropriate and describe the degree to which Barr’s actions have politicized the internal climate,” he wrote.
The Stone scandal comes the week after Trump was acquitted in the U.S. Senate on two articles of impeachment. And Sargent stresses that even though Trump’s impeachment trial is over, House Democrats will still need to keep a very close eye on the president.
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