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The letter sent by 1,100 former officials from the Department of Justice condemning AG William Barr is a travesty. That these former officials would demand AG Barr’s resignation in the face of the circumstances that have been publicized and the lack of a complete set of facts is so blatantly political that it should be embarrassing to all of them. They are so blinded by their political biases, however, that they have no clue about how they have tarnished their own reputations.
If we look carefully at this situation, we can see that there are differences of opinion on what actually happened regarding the sentencing recommendation of the Stone case. The protest letter authors assume they know exactly what happened, but given AG Barr’s reputation, I think they don’t have the grounds for a legitimate protest. In their letter, they make this statement:
The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law. 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. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.
The statement that I italicized is simply untrue. It may be rare for the top leaders to overrule, but they do. In fact, AG Barr had to step in because although the four prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years to the top leadership, they were told this sentence recommendation was excessive and to reduce it. They decided, however, to “bully” Timothy Shea, who had recently been made the top federal prosecutor in DC, into signing off on the longer sentence. It’s called insubordination. Shea’s misstep was one factor behind this judicial mess.
But AG Barr refused to let the recommendation stand; he was not going to let these rogue prosecutors decide on their own what was appropriate.
Jonathan Turley, a highly regarded professor at George Washington University Law School wrote on the appropriateness of AG Barr’s actions:
First, the prosecutors may have filed without approval and in conflict with the views of Main Justice. That would be an act of insubordination if Main Justice had not signed off on the recommendation or ordered a different recommendation. These prosecutors are subject to the decisions of the Justice Department on policy and strategy.
Second, Main Justice may have demanded a change after the recommendation that the prosecutors may have viewed as political interference from the White House. The prosecutors could argue that they set the recommendation at the high end, but still within, the sentencing guidelines. That would, of course, be equally serious and concerning.
Turley’s concern was not the action that AG Barr took to rescind the recommendation, but the circumstances that motivated the action:
Thus, it is not improper as a general rule to have Main Justice intervene in a case or countermand local prosecutors. The sole question is the impetus for the change. If the Criminal Division objected on the same grounds that many of us have been raising, it would not be improper. If the White House objected, the move to override the local prosecutors would be a serious breach of prosecutorial integrity and independence. Given the President’s public statement, we cannot rule out the latter and assume the former. That is why Barr needs to make this normally confidential process much more transparent.
Timelines for these actions are mixed and confusing. President Trump was foolish to speak publicly about the Stone case; he could have privately consulted AG Barr. I fully supported Barr’s public criticism of Trump’s tweets regarding specific cases in the DOJ, although it’s not clear whether his protest will make a difference. At least he told the public that he’s not under anyone’s thumb.
He will appear before the House Judiciary Committee in late March on this subject.
Naturally, if you hate the President and AG Barr’s actions in the DOJ to-date, you assume the worst. The willingness of the former DOJ employees to tar the DOJ and AG Barr because of their assumptions is one more example of the irrelevance of the truth for the Left.