Government watchdog groups and Democratic members of Congress late Tuesday accused President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr of abusing the powers of the Justice Department to reduce federal prosecutors' sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime friend and confidant of Trump who was convicted last November of witness tampering and lying to Congress.
The Justice Department's decision to step in and lessen Stone's recommended prison sentence of seven to nine years—an intervention that led the four career prosecutors handling the case to withdraw—came just hours after Trump voiced his disapproval with what he described as the "horrible and very unfair situation."
"Barr has made clear that, first and foremost, he serves President Donald Trump's personal and political interests and not the interests of the United States."
—Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted Tuesday evening that "Barr overruling career prosecutors at Trump's urging is a disgraceful attack on the rule of law."
In a statement, Schiff added that while he does not "take a position on the proper prison term for Mr. Stone," Trump's intervention in the case would "send an unmistakable message that President Trump will protect those who lie to Congress to cover up his own misconduct, and that the attorney general will join him in that effort."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the top Democrats in Congress, both demanded investigations into the potentially scandalous situation, which unfolded less than a week after Trump was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate on charges of obstructing Congress and abuse of power.
"The growing Justice Department interference scandal comes days after Senate Republicans ended his show impeachment trial," tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "When Trump hears he is above the law the abuses of power immediately get worse."
Just to recap:
2/5: Trump is "acquitted"
2/6: Trump uses National Prayer Breakfast to promise vengeance
2/7: Trump starts firing witnesses
2/11: Career officials resign in protest as Trump administration intervenes in sentencing to protect Stone
It's been less than a week.
— Leah Frances Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) February 11, 2020
The Justice Department's intervention in the Stone case came as Barr is moving to "take control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump," according to NBC News.
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of progressive advocacy group Common Cause, said in a statement late Tuesday that "Barr has made clear that, first and foremost, he serves President Donald Trump's personal and political interests and not the interests of the United States."
"Presidents and attorneys general cannot put their thumbs on the scales of justice for any reason—including to aid friends associates—or we cease to be a nation of laws," said Flynn.
The Attorney General is supposed to represent the American people, not the President.
This is not justice. This is corruption.
Bill Barr must be impeached and removed from office.https://t.co/bns2ZlyG4C
— Common Cause (@CommonCause) February 12, 2020
Trump insisted to reporters late Tuesday that he has "not been involved" in the Stone case "at all" and said he stays "out of things to a degree that people wouldn't believe."
Following the Justice Department's move to make as-of-yet unspecified changes to Stone's sentence, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the department hand over "communications from the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney's office about Stone's sentencing recommendation, including with President Trump and Attorney General Barr."
"We've launched an investigation into DOJ's intervention for a more lenient sentence for Roger Stone, following complaints from Trump, which led to the resignations of the four prosecutors in the case," CREW tweeted. "If AG Bill Barr interfered, we want to know."