The New Yorker:
On Tuesday, four federal prosecutors withdrew from a high-profile case, and one resigned his position, after senior Justice Department officials overruled them and recommended that Roger Stone—a longtime friend and former campaign adviser of President Trump’s—receive a lesser prison sentence. Stone was convicted last November of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness to prevent investigators from learning how the 2016 Trump campaign tried to benefit from stolen Democratic Party e-mails. The highly unusual intervention raises questions about whether the President, or the Attorney General, William Barr, intervened in a federal criminal case to help an associate. (Late on Tuesday, NBC News reported that Barr had decided to “take control of legal matters of personal interest to Donald Trump.”) Last night, Trump tweeted that the seven-to-nine-year sentence prosecutors had recommended for Stone was too harsh. The group resignation comes less than a month after other prosecutors reduced a sentencing recommendation in the case of another former Trump associate, Michael Flynn.
To talk through the legal and political issues involved, I spoke by phone with Mary McCord, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for nearly twenty years in the District of Columbia. She also served as the acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security. She is now a professor at Georgetown Law School. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed Barr’s tenure as Attorney General, the steps that D.O.J. officials who are concerned about the rule of law can and should take, and why there may be no legal recourse for a President who wants to politicize criminal investigations.
I think that there are a lot of different things that people should be paying attention to, but most significant is the fact that the Department of Justice—by coming in and reversing or reneging on a sentencing recommendation—is really creating long-lasting damage to its reputation and credibility in front of the courts. It is D.O.J. policy, when you have a high-profile case like the Roger Stone case, to have discussions with D.O.J. leadership—up to and including the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General—before any significant matter, and that includes sentencing. So we know, under D.O.J. policy, that the line prosecutors would have been running this recommendation up the flagpole to department leadership, which means that, unless they went completely rogue and changed their recommendation after all had agreed on what that recommendation would be, it appears that the D.O.J. is now capitulating to pressure being brought to bear by the President because of his displeasure and dissatisfaction with the sentencing recommendation.
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