President Trump’s recent comments on the prosecution of Roger Stone pose serious threats to public confidence in the Department of Justice and the rule of law.
On November 15, 2019, a jury in the District of Columbia found Mr. Stone, a longtime friend and 2016 campaign advisor to President Trump, guilty of obstructing a Congressional investigation, making false statements to Congress, and witness tampering. On February 10, 2020, the Justice Department prosecutors assigned to the case filed a sentencing memorandum recommending that Mr. Stone be imprisoned for a term of 87 to 108 months. Early the following morning (February 11), President Trump tweeted this message in response to a news report about the prosecution’s recommendation:
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!
Later on February 11, without further explanation, the Department of Justice filed a second sentencing memorandum, stating that the memorandum filed the day before “did not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in the matter.” The second memorandum argued that “a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances [and] defer[red] to the Court as to the specific sentence to be imposed.” In an interview broadcast yesterday, Attorney General William Barr acknowledged that he had intervened in the sentencing process and directed that the Department change its recommendation.
As the BBA has previously observed, we are fortunate to be able to rely on an independent judiciary as a core component of our justice system. Under our system, the length of Mr. Stone’s sentence is a matter for Judge Amy Berman Jackson to decide; the BBA takes no position on that question.
However, this last-minute intervention by the Attorney General — after the Department of Justice had already publicly filed a formal sentencing memorandum and following so closely on the heels of the President’s public statement condemning the sentencing recommendation — is extraordinary and, to our knowledge, unprecedented. Attorney General Barr admitted that the statements by the President “make it impossible for [him] to do [his] job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
We agree. That is why the BBA believes it is incumbent upon Attorney General Barr to provide full details about, and a reasoned explanation for, his direct involvement in the Stone sentencing process and his instruction to revise the Department’s sentencing recommendation. This should include the public release of documents, including emails, texts and phone records, that concern Attorney General Barr’s decision to override the prosecutors’ original sentencing recommendation.
Without the full transparency that these circumstances require, neither the bar nor the public can maintain confidence in the Department of Justice’s commitment to the impartial and independent enforcement of the law. And public trust in that sacred democratic principle, once lost, cannot easily be restored.
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