Aftermath of Stone Case: Will Politics Corrupt DOJ Decisions?

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U.S. Department of Justice. Photo by Tony Webb via Flickr

Attorney General William Barr’s intervention to reduce a prison sentencing recommendation for President Donald Trump’s convicted friend Roger Stone prompted all four career prosecutors handling the matter to quit the case.

To career prosecutors around the U.S., the Stone case raised new fears of what is to come, the New York Times reports.

Underscoring fears that Trump’s vindictiveness towards political opponents is coloring decisions by the Department of Justice, Trump congratulated Barr Wednesday “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought” and said prosecutors “ought to apologize” to Stone.

Until now, according to conversations with more than a dozen career lawyers in U.S. Attorney’s offices, they had watched other DOJ divisions make significant shifts in response to Trump while the work of prosecuting crimes was largely unaffected. Career prosecutors worry they might face more pressure.

“In essence, the leadership of the Justice Department has commandeered the sentencing in a politically sensitive criminal matter, reversing the position uniformly accepted and promoted by the career prosecutors,” said David Laufman,former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section.

Prosecutors across the U.S. already had been wary of working on any case that might catch Trump’s attention. Now they worry that Barr might not support them in politically charged cases.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who headed the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, said Trump has continually injected himself into federal investigations and prosecutions involving his political friends and enemies.

“Even assuming that Bill Barr is acting with integrity, it is impossible for people to believe that because the president is making him look like his political lap dog,” Goldsmith said.

“Trump makes it impossible to have confidence in the department’s judgment.”

Earlier this month, Barr issued restrictions on the opening of politically sensitive investigations, an effort meant to avoid upending the presidential election as the FBI inadvertently did in 2016 when its campaign inquiries shaped the outcome of the race.

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to announce investigations into his political rivals.

The memo said the FBI and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

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