Prominent prosecutors say that they’re concerned about taking on any cases that could potentially anger Donald Trump after Attorney General Bill Barr intervened to ease the prison sentence against Trump-ally Roger Stone.
Several anonymous prosecutors spoke with the New York Times, revealing to the paper that they were wary of taking on any cases that involve Trump’s friends or associates. The comments come after Barr pushed for Stone’s sentence to be reduced, prompting concerns that not only may Barr intervene again, but he may leave them hanging if they take on politically delicate cases.
Previous administrations have been careful to not appear too close to the Justice Department to avoid any suggestion that they were conspiring. Former presidents have also largely avoided weighing in on cases that involve their friends or associates. But in Trump’s administration, Barr has taken on an intimate relationship with the Oval Office that is concerning to some people.
Barr stepped in on the Stone case after Trump complained about the seven-to-nine year sentence that was recommended for Stone. Later, the president cheered Barr for his decision to intervene.
After Barr intervened in the Stone case, all four career prosecutors on the case quit, and the situation has had a ripple effect on the rest of prosecutors in the country. One expert says that the prosecutors’ decision to leave signaled that they were unhappy with the way the Justice Department handled the situation.
“Beyond that,” the expert said, “they likely also believed there are ethical considerations that forced their decision.”
David Laufman, a lawyer and a former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence team, weighed in on the situation.
“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 Laufman.
Jack L. Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel says that Trump has gotten involved in federal cases repeatedly when it involves his friends or associates.
“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,” he said. “Trump makes it impossible to have confidence in the department’s judgment.”
Meanwhile, legal scholars say that Trump’s actions have undermined the sort of norms that help bolster trust in the political system.