Although it is still early minutes, the sentencing of Roger Stone has just become Exhibit A in what can only be considered a real tragedy for the reputation of the Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr and a real threat to the rule of law in the United States. That is about a monumental statement as I can make.
Just briefly to recap what has happened so far:
- Roger Stone, President Trump’s long time confidant and quasi-political advisor was indicted on seven felony counts by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
- On November 15, 2019, after a 2 week trial, a federal jury, after seven hours deliberation, found Stone guilty all “seven felonies for obstructing the congressional inquiry, lying to investigators under oath and trying to block the testimony of a witness whose account would have exposed his lies.” NYT, Roger Stone Is Convicted of Impeding Investigators in a Bid to Protect Trump.
- On February 10, 2020, the Government filed its sentencing recommendation, signed by two Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 2 Special Assistant U.S. attorneys. The recommendation was that the sentence be within the “applicable Adviosry guidelines.” The recommendation was for a sentence be between 87-108 months (7 to 9 years).
- On the Department of Justice Website today is the following press release, “Rhode Island Property Developer Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for $10 Million Ponzi Scheme and Obstructing IRS Investigation.” Unlike Stone, who was convicted by a jury, she pled guilty.
- At 1:48 am this morning, President Trump re-tweeted a report that the Department of Justice had recommended 7 to 9 years, with the following comment: ” 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! https://twitter.com/ChuckRossDC/status/1227016256227807232 …Chuck Ross“
- This morning a “senior Department of Justice official,” is quoted by the Washington Post as saying: ” That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” … speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive case. “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses. The department will clarify its position later today.” Later a named spokesperson, Kerri Kupec, said “the White House did not communicate with the agency on Monday or Tuesday, and that the decision to reverse course was made before Trump’s tweet.” See, Washington Post, Prosecutors quit amid escalating Justice Dept. fight over Roger Stone’s prison term.
- Later, the DOJ followed through filing its “Supplemental and Amended recommendation. Instead of being signed by the four attorneys who signed off on the recommendation filed yesterday, this was signed by John Crabb, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney and Acting Chief, Criminal Division. On the website of the D.C. U.S. Attorneys office, T. Patrick Martin was listed as the Chief and Crabb, the Deputy, and at this point, what has happened to Mr. Martin is not known.
- The four original attorneys have asked to resign from the case, and at least one of them has resigned his job with the Justice Department. Politico, All 4 prosecutors quit Roger Stone case after DOJ shifts to urge lighter sentence.
Now for the request to Judge Jackson. Obviously, this is unusual, and that is a huge understatement.
Already, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler and Majority Leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer have raised questions and indicated that they will seek investigation. NPR, DOJ Asks Court For ‘Far Less’ Prison Time For Roger Stone After Trump Tweet But we have a recent example of how easily that can be derailed.
But Judge Jackson can short cut it. Certainly all four prosecutors, who still have to have judicial permission to withdraw, Mr. Crabb, and the U.S. Attorney for the D.C. Office, Timothy J. Shea, whose name is on both pleadings, should provide the Court complete details of how this change in position came to happen. And if that does not leave matters completely clear, a similar request to Attorney General Barr himself should be issued.
What happens to Roger Stone is important, but in the longer term, far less important than what happened here.
Fortunately, we have another opportunity to see whether one of the three co-equal branches of government can indeed be a check and balance on another. Help us all if it doesn’t.