Rumblings at the Department of Justice

Weeks after the impeachment trial, in addition to unexpectedly pardoning 11 people, President Trump has publicly praised Attorney General William Barr over his amendment of Roger Stone’s sentencing.

As announced by the U.S. Attorney’s office and reported by multiple outlets, including the Washington Examiner, Attorney General Bill Barr withdrew the sentencing recommendation made by Department of Justice prosecutors for Roger Stone. Stone is  a Trump campaign advisor and long time associate convicted of obstruction of a congressional investigation, making false statements to Congress, and tampering with a witness. He was initially found guilty in a November 2019 a U.S. District Court trial for misleading prosecutors related to the Russian-2016 election probe. At that time,  DOJ prosecutors announced that they had recommended a 7 to 9-year sentence for Stone. However, soon after Trump called for a lighter sentence on Twitter, Attorney General Barr stepped in to make an amendment and reduction of the sentence. In response, four federal prosecutors withdrew from the case and one outright resigned from the Justice Department in protest. Now many, including a thousand ex-DOJ prosecutors are calling for Barr’s resignation. Fast forward to Roger Stone’s February sentencing following the trial where Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison. Many speculate that the President will pardon him, especially because he referred to the conviction as “a miscarriage of justice,” and has already pardoned more than 11 people.

According to the thousands of DOJ officials who are now calling for Bill Barr’s resignation, it seems that the president is abusing his executive power and is exerting undue influence over the justice department to push a new definition of criminality that does not include him and his previous actions. Indeed, to many, it seems that with Attorney General Bill Barr on his side, President Trump is above the law.

On one hand, the right claims that Trump, and the Attorney General are all acting within their rights and the actions of Roger Stone are not serious enough to warrant a severe penalty, if one at all. To those on the right, the President and AG Barr are only following the rules and have not broken any law. To them, Barr’s decisions are far well within the scope of the power of the DOJ. Furthermore, to them, his tweets (and the ABC interview mentioned above) show he is conscious of checking Trump’s influence on the actions of his department. Besides, Republicans have long been in favor of a stronger executive branch and Trump’s base will be excited by his outspoken tactics. These investigations are largely due to a left-wing attempt to undermine Trump and impede his abilities to effectively govern and win reelection in 2020. The primary reason cases like this should be reviewed is to ensure both that justice is done and that neither public attention nor political motivation has tainted the calculus of a sentencing recommendation.

Thus to many on the right, Barr had done nothing wrong with inserting himself in the Roger Stone case. In fact, according to a Washington Post story, “Even supervisors in the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, were uncomfortable with the recommended sentence.” Just because some of the prosecutors removed themselves from the case doesn’t show any wrong doing on the part of the AG or Trump. Indeed, the right can argue that the fact that they chose to remove themselves from the case shows a lack of respect for the President and the AG. In fact, their removal may even be beneficial for the right and Roger Stone. Since the prosecutors resigned, the ones who will fill their spots could be more right leaning than their predecessors. This just shows another victory for Trump. 

On the other hand the left argues that Stone, Trump and the AG are all destroying our democracy by abusing the executive powers. Trump has appointed a significant amount of appellate judges, signed a great deal of executive orders, has pardoned over fifteen people, and continues to use the AG Barr to help him and his associates.  Democrats claim that this amounts to a crisis with the Department of Justice and a crisis over our Democracy in general. Indeed, there are people (largely on the left) that feel that Barr and thus the DOJ have been overly influenced by the President’s political agenda for reelection. Barr has already used his influence to support Trump’s interests in the Michael Flynn sentencing and on the Mueller Russia probe.Moreover, when you consider the fact that Trump has a history of pardoning characters (Joe Arapaio,etc.), particularly those who have been charged with crimes related to influencing on elections, it is clear that Trump is abusing our legislative system and his executive power for his own advantage and potentially reelection.

Indeed, according to many people from the left, Trump is clearly trying to create a new precedent under which the President and even those close to him can influence elections and the justice system to consolidate power. It even appears that Bill Barr is at least somewhat aware that his and the President’s actions after he appeared on an ABC interview furiously claiming that the President (through his Tweets of the sentencing), is making it harder for him to do his job. According to commentary on the left, Barr’s intent with this interview was to convince the public that he was an impartial actor, and not Trump’s strongest ally. 

The debate around the Trump and Barr relationship raises questions about the appropriate relationships between various branches of government. It also calls into question whether political divisions are creating a false constitutional crisis. (ie is there a real issue with the way Barr is running his department or does the outrage have more to do with a general dislike of Trump). The debate between the left and right continues.

What We Want to Know on Quibbl:

Will the President grant Roger Stone so he can avoid jail time? Link

Will Attorney General Barr actually be impeached? Link

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