Attorney General William Barr’s intervention in the Roger Stone case and his efforts to distort the conclusions of the federal investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election make him unfit to be the highest justice official in the U.S., charges a letter signed by 300 leading attorneys, former judges, and bar association presidents.
The letter, organized by Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD), a nonprofit advocacy group formed in 2018, called on Barr to resign, arguing that his behavior “undermines both the appearance of impartial justice and impartial justice itself.”
Signatories of the open letter, released Tuesday, included Joseph Grodin, former Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court; Richard Meserve, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Institution; and Cheryl Niro, past president of the Illinois State Bar Association.
Noting that a congressional hearing into Barr’s conduct has been indefinitely postponed because of COVID-19, Scott Harshbarger, co-founder of LDAD, said that should not allow the attorney general to avoid scrutiny before his actions accelerated President Donald Trump’s disregard constitutional democracy.
“[Barr’s] empowering of the president with…radical, anti-democratic ideas makes him unfit to serve as Attorney General of the United States,” said Harshbarger in a statement accompanying the letter.
The letter focused on two of Barr’s most controversial recent actions:
- Overruling his prosecutors’ recommendation of a seven-to-nine year sentence in the conviction of Trump ally Roger Stone for lying to Congress and threatening a witness. Stone was eventually sentenced to 40 months.
- Distorting the conclusions of the probe led by Robert Mueller into alleged Russian involvement in Trump’s 2016 election campaign by saying there was no evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice.
In the Stone case, the letter evoked the excesses of the Watergate era by suggesting Barr had allowed his office to be undermined by the political interests of the White House.
“Since the Watergate scandal, there has been a bright line insulating the Department of Justice from politically motivated decision-making,” the letter said. “Barr’s intervention in the Stone prosecution raises red flags that that line has been crossed.”
But the letter-writers also made clear that their deeper argument was with Barr’s long-held argument for a largely unchecked chief executive—a position they said would inevitably lead to an “imperial presidency” which Trump has been eager to exploit.
“[The idea that] the president is constitutionally empowered to base his law enforcement decisions on any motivation, necessarily including protecting himself from potential disclosure of his own wrongdoing, is not only logically fallacious; it is contrary to the fundamental American principles of fair and impartial justice,” the writers said.
The Attorney-General’s “radical legal views and harmful behavior” make him a “danger” to American democracy, particularly during the Trump presidency, according to the letter.
“We are governed by the “rule of law,” not the “law of the ruler,” the letter said.
Tuesday’s letter follows other protests of Barr’s actions in the Roger Stone case. The four career government lawyers involved in prosecuting Stone quit the case, and across the country, many justice attorneys have quietly told journalists they feared pressure from Washington.
The letter can be downloaded here.