“The shocking actions taken by you or your senior staff to seek special protections for [Roger] Stone make a mockery of your responsibilities to seek equal justice under the law and reveal that you are unfit to head the DOJ”, nine Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders wrote, in a letter to Bill Barr on Friday.
You can read the full letter below, but the bottom line is that Warren, Sanders, Chris Van Hollen, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Mazie Hirono, Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal and Jeff Merkley, want Barr to “resign immediately”.
This has obviously been a tough week for the attorney general, and his efforts to feign irritation at Donald Trump’s real-time Twitter analysis of legal matters before the Justice Department went down like a lead balloon with skeptics. In essence, Democrats and commentators critical of the administration suggested Barr was merely attempting to cover his tracks and preserve a veneer of independence in order to ensure he can keep doing the president’s bidding, unimpeded by charges of politicization.
If that was the plan, Trump predictably undermined it first thing Friday morning.
“‘The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case'”, he tweeted, quoting Barr, before immediately making it clear that if there was any sincerity at all in the attorney general’s remarks to ABC on Thursday, Trump is having none of it. “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so”, he declared. “I do, but I have so far chosen not to!”
You have to think Barr was incredulous. To the extent the two men agreed it would be best if Barr at least paid lip service to the desirability of preserving an even-handed justice system, the whole effort went up in flames when Trump couldn’t stomach headlines about being “rebuked”. That, despite likely assurances from Barr that the remarks were not a rebuke at all, but merely a necessary publicity stunt.
Believe it or not, the optics around this situation got considerably worse on Friday. The New York Times, citing sources, reported that Barr has ordered a “highly unusual” review of the Michael Flynn case, as well as several other politically-sensitive matters. To wit:
Mr. Barr has also installed a handful of outside prosecutors to broadly review the handling of other national-security cases in the US attorney’s office in Washington.
Over the past two weeks, the outside prosecutors have begun grilling line prosecutors in the Washington office about various cases — some public, some not — including investigative steps, prosecutorial actions and why they took them.
They are part of a broader turmoil in [the Washington] office coinciding with Mr. Barr’s recent installation of a close aide, Timothy Shea, as interim United States attorney in the District of Columbia, after Mr. Barr maneuvered out the Senate-confirmed former top prosecutor in the office, Jessie K. Liu.
Flynn, of course, pleaded guilty in 2017, but has recently engaged in a series of efforts to assert misconduct on the part of prosecutors. Last month, he said he wished to withdraw the guilty plea altogether.
Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn on Twitter and variously suggested the disgraced general is somehow a victim, despite having only himself to blame for his legal woes.
Earlier this week, a federal judge canceled Flynn’s sentencing “until further order of the court”.
Meanwhile, Barr’s Justice Department decided to drop charges against Andrew McCabe Friday. A brief letter to the former acting FBI director reads as follows:
Dear Counsel, We write to inform you that, after careful consideration, the Government has decided not to pursue criminal charges against your client Andrew G . McCabe, arising from the referral by the Office of the Inspector General ( ) to our Office of conduct described in OIG ‘ April 13, 2018, report entitled, ” A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.” Based on the totality of the circumstances and all of the information known to theGovernment at this time, we consider the matter closed . Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
McCabe – who was mercilessly pursued by Trump, and stripped of his pension – called the timing “curious” in an interview with CNN.
It is, in fact, “curious”, and you’d be forgiven for asking whether Trump and Barr decided that if letting McCabe off the hook meant giving the DOJ plausible deniability to do more favors for the president’s allies, it was worth it.
As The Times writes in a separate article, a judge presiding over a lawsuit seeking FBI documents related to McCabe’s firing in 2018 on Friday unsealed the transcript of a September closed-door meeting with prosecutors. Here is a passage from that transcript:
Because the public is listening to what’s going on, and I don’t think people like the fact that you got somebody at the top basically trying to dictate whether somebody should be prosecuted. I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road.
Judges are now fretting behind closed doors that America is a “banana republic”.
You can draw your own conclusions, but one thing’s for sure: These are strange times at the Justice Department.
Letter to McCabefullmccabe
Letter to Barr