- An association of federal judges will convene for an urgent meeting Trump’s interference in the Department of Justice’s sentencing of Roger Stone, USA Today reported.
- The DOJ leadership overruled their prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years in prison for Stone, who was convicted in November on seven charges of witness tampering, false statements, and obstruction.
- The overrule came after Trump publicly complained about the sentencing recommendation for Stone, his long time ally, in a tweet, calling it “a horrible and very unfair situation.”
- The episode caused an internal crisis within the DOJ that led to all four prosecutors withdrawing from the case and thousands of former federal prosecutors calling on AG William Barr to resign.
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An association of federal judges will hold an unprecedented meeting about President Donald Trump’s interference in the Department of Justice’s sentencing of long-time Trump ally and informal adviser Roger Stone, USA Today reported.
The leader of the Federal Judges Association, US District Judge Cynthia Rufe, told the outlet that over 1,000 of the group’s members called for the emergency conference call, scheduled for Tuesday, over the DOJ reversing its own prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Stone after Trump publicly complained over its severity.
Rufe told USA Today that the group “could not wait” until its scheduled conference in April “to discuss matters of this importance,” saying, “there are plenty of issues that we are concerned about.”
In January 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Stone with one count of obstruction, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering in connection with his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. Stone pleaded not guilty to all charges and faced trial.
On November 15, 2019, Stone was found guilty in federal court on all counts.
Initially, federal prosecutors recommended a seven to nine year sentence for Stone, which Trump immediately criticised on Twitter as “a horrible and very unfair situation.
Hours later, the Department of Justice leadership overruled their prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation, with higher-level officials releasing a separate memo saying the seven to nine-year recommendation “could be considered excessive and unwarranted” and that the DOJ will “[defer] to the Court” about how long Stone should be sentenced.
In another unprecedented move, Trump also attacked US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge who presided over both Stone’s case and the DC-based criminal case against Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort
“Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted about Jackson. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”
The sudden reversal of the DOJ’s recommendation shocked veteran prosecutors and led to all four Assistant US Attorneys assigned to the prosecution withdrawing from the case en masse, casting serious doubt over the DOJ’s independence.
In an interview with ABC News, Attorney General William Barr – who has long been criticised for comprising the DOJ’s integrity with his fealty to Trump’s demands – said that while Trump has never asked him to intervene in a criminal proceeding, the president’s tweets make his job more difficult.
“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “I’m going to do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
Despite Barr’s attempts at damage control, the entire episode has shaken faith in his leadership of the DOJ. Over the weekend, over 2,000 former federal prosecutors have called on Barr to resign from his position an in open letter.
“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 letter said.