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William Barr: More than 1,000 former justice officials demand attorney general step down over Roger Stone controversy

Group calls it 'outrageous' for sitting AG to carry a president's water to help a friend as Trump claims he has the power to do so

John T. Bennett
Monday 17 February 2020 15:49 GMT
House votes to hold William Barr in contempt of Congress

Condemning his "unheard of" move regarding Roger Stone, Donald Trump's convicted friend, over 1,000 former Justice Department employees called for Attorney General William Barr to resign because his actions resemble those of "autocracies."

The group of former Justice officials were referring to Mr Barr stepping in to overrule prosecutors who decided to suggest a federal judge hand Mr Stone a nine-year sentence for lying to Congress and obstructing a federal investigation. That came after Mr Trump tweeted that such a sentence would represent a "miscarriage of justice," a rare move by a sitting president to even appear to weigh in on an internal DOJ sentencing debate.

Democratic lawmakers and many legal experts are warning that Mr Trump's actions are his latest attempt following his acquittal on two impeachment articles to use the powers of his office in more expansive ways. Mr Trump argues he has the legal authority to do things like weigh in on criminal cases and fire administration officials he believes betrayed him with their impeachment testimony.

"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 former Justice Department officials wrote in a statement released Sunday.

"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," added the group, which has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The former officials took umbrage with what they dubbed "special treatment" for a longtime friend of an adviser to Mr Trump, saying giving preferential sentences to such a person would constitute "a grave threat to the fair administration of justice.

"Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies, stated the group, organised by Protect Democracy, a bipartisan organisation that frequently criticises the Trump administration.

The former officials did give the AG credit for his own criticisms of Mr Trump's tweets about DOJ business that he made last week in an interview with ABC News. Mr Barr said he finds it "impossible" to do his job as the country's top lawyer due to constant "commentary" from the president via Twitter and his public remarks.

Mr Barr contended that "to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity."

But the next morning, the president was back on twitter, contending he has the legal power and right to comment on any piece of DOJ business. "This doesn't mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do," Mr Trump wrote, "but I have so far chosen not to!"

The sincerity of Mr Barr's interview comments has been questioned, with some questioning whether he coordinated with Mr Trump and White House officials to put some distance between the tweets and himself.

"But Mr. Barr's actions in doing the President's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign," the former officials wrote.

Despite the appearance of a tiff between president and attorney general, Mr Trump has repeatedly praised Mr Barr during public remarks. The two also share a view of an office of the president with expansive legal powers.

There is no talk in Washington about Mr Trump searching for what would be his third AG. White House officials have given no indication they want what would likely be a bruising and bitterly partisan attorney general confirmation fight with Senate Democrats during a year in which Mr Trump is on the ballot.

The group acknowledges Mr Barr isn't going anywhere, calling on current department officials to essentially be a watchdog on their own boss.

"But because we have little expectation he will do so," they wrote, "it falls to the Department's career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice.

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