Resign? He’s not going to resign.
He’s not going to be impeached. That was the point of Ed’s post earlier: Having gained little politically from the Ukraine saga, House Democrats are done focusing on Trump scandals before the election unless their hands are forced. Impeachment was a one-shot deal. You can impeach him for Ukraine or you can impeach him for emoluments or you can impeach him for the Stormy Daniels thing or you can impeach him for the corrupt pardons he’ll issue soon enough to his cronies or you can impeach him for half a dozen other things that’ll happen between now and the election, but you have to choose. Democrats chose. A second impeachment, even of a different official, will look farcical to Americans who were never better than 50/50 on the Ukraine matter, no matter how strong the grounds may be this time. “Is this all Democrats do anymore? Impeach people?”
But just because they can’t impeach Barr doesn’t mean they shouldn’t investigate the curious case of the revised sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone. What happened yesterday stinks on ice, and lord knows the Trump glee club in the Senate isn’t going to look into it. Why would they investigation allegations of corruption by the president and his AG when the evidence might reveal corruption by the president and his AG? So, as usual, it’s a House probe or nothing — the sooner the better, since no doubt “absolute immunity” will once again be asserted as a reason not to produce evidence and that won’t be resolved without a long court fight.
Congress must act immediately to rein in our lawless Attorney General. Barr should resign or face impeachment. And Congress should use spending power to defund the AG’s authority to interfere with anything that affects Trump, his friends, or his elections.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 12, 2020
She also went on to say this:
I am the only candidate to propose an independent DOJ task force to investigate crimes by Trump administration officials. Every Democratic candidate must commit to it—so Trump officials know they will be held accountable by career prosecutors once he is out of office.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 12, 2020
“Elect me and I’ll sic the DOJ on Trump”? Not an obvious position for someone who professes to be troubled by politicization of the Justice Department.
Anyway, there was some mystery late yesterday as to who among the DOJ leadership had insisted on reducing the Department’s sentencing recommendation for Stone. There’s less mystery about it today:
Prosecutors on the case reportedly wanted a stiff sentence due to the fact that Stone had threatened witness Randy Credico before Credico testified against him. Supervisors at the DOJ wanted something lighter, seemingly because it was unclear if Stone really meant Credico harm or if he was just shooting off his mouth. Even Credico said he didn’t take Stone’s threats seriously. How that dispute was resolved and even whether it was resolved before the initial sentencing recommendation was filed in court is uncertain at this point; a DOJ source told Fox News that higher-ups at the Department were actively misled by the prosecutors into believing that they’d seek a lighter sentence than they ended up seeking, but that’s hard to believe. (The prosecutors reportedly found out about the revised sentence recommendation via Fox News, not from their own bosses, a leak that makes this smell even more political.) What outside lawyers who are watching this play out seem to agree on is this: (1) The seven-to-nine-year sentence that was initially sought really was surprisingly high given that Stone’s threats seemed like mere bluster, but (2) even so, it’s reeeeeeeeeally unusual for the DOJ to step in and demand that front-line prosecutors change their recommendation after it’s been filed. Harry Litman, a former U.S. Attorney, was amazed:
I have never experienced or even heard of a situation in which a career prosecutor had been ordered to withdraw a sentencing memorandum within the guidelines’ range. The original filing in the Stone case came from two career federal prosecutors and two special assistant U.S. attorneys. This rebuke has to be maddening for them.
Another former U.S. Attorney told NBC, “I’ve never seen this happen, ever… I’d be shocked if the judge didn’t order the U.S. attorney to come into court to explain it.” Typically prosecutors leave it to the defense and the judge to justify leniency for the defendant: The state asks for hard time in its sentencing recommendation and expects something more reasonable from the court. Not this time. For some reason, in a case that just happened to involve a presidential crony whose recommended sentence had upset the president publicly, the DOJ decided to submit a de facto defense filing by alleging that its initial recommendation had been excessive. That smells like a special political favor done for a well-connected — and already convicted — defendant. Swampy as hell.
It’s not the only time the DOJ has done it lately either:
Senior officials at the Justice Department also intervened last month to help change the government’s sentencing recommendation for Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. While the prosecutors had once recommended up to six months in jail, their latest filing now says they believe probation would be appropriate…
On Jan. 7, after Flynn moved to withdraw his guilty plea, prosecutors in the case recommended a sentence that included possible jail time. Their original recommendation was probation, given that Flynn had cooperated in Mueller’s Russia investigation.
But, people familiar with the matter said, senior Justice Department officials pressured prosecutors to reverse course. On Jan. 29, the government filed a new document with the court saying a sentence of probation was “reasonable.”
That makes two presidential cronies who’ve received an unusual, and unusually favorable, revised sentence recommendation courtesy of Bill Barr’s DOJ. I’m curious to know how many defendants in the federal system not personally connected to the president have received the same sort of compassion lately from a Department headed by a guy who’s not otherwise known to be soft on crime.
But there’s more. The U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. that prosecuted Flynn and Stone used to be headed by Jessie Liu. Liu was recently nominated by Trump to be an undersecretary at the Treasury Department. Her confirmation hearing before a Senate committee was scheduled for tomorrow. Last night, for no apparent reason, it was announced that Trump was pulling the nomination. Could it be a coincidence that the lawyer who’d overseen the Flynn and Stone cases was suddenly being hushed up before Senate Dems had a chance to grill her about the shenanigans in the Stone matter? Nope, according to CNN:
While head of the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, Liu inherited many of the major ongoing cases from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and was also handling the politically charged case of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of Trump’s ire who is also a CNN contributor.
As Trump and administration officials weighed pulling Liu’s nomination to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes, a central factor in the talks was how she had run the US Attorney’s Office. The problem wasn’t that she necessarily did anything wrong, one person familiar with the thinking said, but that she didn’t do more to get involved in those cases.
That sounds a lot like “she didn’t intervene to make sure the president’s cronies got sweetheart deals.” Axios reported yesterday that Liu was expected initially to remain as U.S. Attorney in D.C. until she was confirmed for the Treasury job, but she was unexpectedly yanked from her position by Barr two weeks ago and replaced on an interim basis by one of Barr’s close advisors, Timothy Shea. As chance would have it, the new recommendation for a more lenient sentence for Mike Flynn was filed on January 29, the same day that Liu was removed from her position.
In other words, to all appearances, Barr wanted leniency for Trump’s cronies and recognized that Liu might be a political obstacle to that. So he pushed her out while her confirmation was pending, installed a loyalist, and then set about undoing the months of work on sentencing that front-line prosecutors in both the Flynn and Stone cases had done. And then, with Liu about to open her mouth under oath before the Senate and answer questions about political pressures from above on the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, Trump hushed her up by withdrawing her nomination. Presumably, if Congress wants to talk to her now, they’ll have to litigate past an “absolute immunity” claim too.
No time like the present to get started. Issue that subpoena today. In the meantime, Barr is tentatively scheduled to testify before the House — seven weeks from now. Can they wait that long to hear from him? Stay tuned. Exit quotation from Susan Collins, who’ll be answering for stuff like this until the polls close day on Election Day:
Susan Collins just now on Roger Stone case: “The president should not have gotten involved”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 12, 2020