Reporters speaking on television Wednesday, said that President Trump has been emboldened by being acquitted of impeachment charges.
Trump had congratulated the nation’s attorney general Wednesday for intervening to lower the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for the president’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr.
Trump’s comments, reporters said, demonstrated that the department is ceding its independence to the White House.
The initial sentencing recommendation for Stone was filed on Monday. On Tuesday, it was amended and refiled stating that the earlier version “did not accurately reflected the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in the matter.” The DOJ instead suggested an unspecified term.
Presidents typically have avoided interfering in Justice Department decisions to avoid allegations of improper influence, though there is no law against it. Trump has publicly inserted himself into several Justice Department matters, in some instances to protect friends like Stone and to direct investigations into his political rivals.
Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors in the Stone case, wrote in a court filing that he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government altogether. Three others — Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Adam Jed and Michael Marando — filed notices with the judge saying “please notice the withdrawal” from the case.
The president said Stone was treated “very badly” and that prosecutors “ought to apologize to him.”
As the drama unfolded Tuesday afternoon, Trump also decided to withdraw his nomination of the District’s former U.S. attorney, Jessie K. Liu, to serve as Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, people familiar with the matter said. The withdrawal was originally reported by Axios.
The reason for the withdrawal was not clear. Liu had left her U.S. attorney post last month in as somewhat unusual move, because she had not yet received Senate confirmation for her new job. She was replaced on an interim basis by Timothy Shea, a former counselor to Attorney General William P. Barr.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate, writing, “This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution.”
Rep. Bill Pascrel, Jr. (D-N.J.) said the move amounted to “obstruction of justice.”
“We are seeing a full-frontal assault on the rule of law in America,” Pascrell said. “Direct political interference in our justice system is a hallmark of a banana republic.”
“Despite whatever Trump, William Barr, and their helpers think, the United States is a nation of laws and not an authoritarian’s paradise.”