Trump congratulates Barr for ‘taking charge’ of Stone case
President Donald Trump praised Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday for “taking charge” of the federal case against Roger Stone — a maneuver that has provoked outrage from congressional Democrats and appeared to prompt the withdrawal of four government prosecutors.
“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”
A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment on the president’s social media post.
Trump’s tweet comes amid escalating tensions at the Justice Department, which ramped up Tuesday after the department backed off a previous sentencing recommendation for Stone, a longtime informal political adviser to Trump.
Federal prosecutors had urged Monday that Stone be sent to prison for seven to nine years for impeding congressional and FBI investigations into connections between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
But after the president blasted that proposal Tuesday as a “horrible and very unfair situation,” the Justice Department submitted a revised filing that offered no specific term for Stone’s sentence and stated that the prosecutors’ recommendation “could be considered excessive and unwarranted.”
Trump also took shots Tuesday targeting former special counsel Robert Mueller’s squad of federal prosecutors — two of whom served on Stone’s prosecution team — as well as U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was scheduled to sentence Stone and has overseen several other Mueller-related cases.
By the end of the day, the quartet of attorneys who had shepherded Stone’s prosecution had either resigned or notified the court that they were stepping off the case. Trump reprised his attack on their initial sentencing filing Wednesday, suggesting it was perhaps the product of “Rogue prosecutors.”
“Two months in jail for a Swamp Creature, yet 9 years recommended for Roger Stone (who was not even working for the Trump Campaign),” the president tweeted, making apparent reference to a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide who pleaded guilty in 2018 for lying to the FBI. “Gee, that sounds very fair! Rogue prosecutors maybe? The Swamp!”
Trump claimed Tuesday that he had not asked the Justice Department to change the sentencing recommendation, and Hogan Gidley, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary, repeated that denial Wednesday — asserting that neither the president nor anyone at the White House pressured the attorney general or other department officials to reduce Stone’s sentence.
“Unequivocally no,” he told Fox News, adding that the president “did not interfere here with anything.”
“Look, he’s the chief law enforcement officer. He has the right to do it. He just didn’t,” Gidley said of Trump. “He didn’t make any comment — didn’t have a conversation, I should say, rather, with the attorney general, and that’s just ludicrous. It’s just another scandal that the Democrats are trying to push forward.”
A senior Justice Department official said Tuesday that the decision to alter the prosecutors’ filing was unrelated to the president’s venting on social media and came before Trump issued his critical tweet. Instead, the official said, department leaders were “shocked” by the proposal, which “was not the recommendation that had been briefed to the department.”
Still, Democratic lawmakers quickly denounced the department’s intervention in the Stone case, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) calling Tuesday for an investigation by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz into the reversal.
Democrats’ condemnation continued Wednesday, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) demanded Barr’s resignation.
“I think that Attorney General Barr has no choice but to follow these dedicated prosecutors out the door,” he told MSNBC. “Because he’s acting simply as a henchman — a political operative — of the president, who’s always wanted the attorney general of the United States to be his Roy Cohn, his personal attorney.”
Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he had not heard back from that panel’s leader, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), regarding his request to probe the Justice Department’s actions.
Like Schumer, Blumenthal asked for Horowitz “to conduct an immediate, intensive investigation — because this kind of political interference is exactly the abuse of power, the dictatorial interference that we all ought to resist.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also had harsh words for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
“Bill Barr is demonstrating that he is not the attorney general for the people of the United States,” he told CNN. “He swore allegiance to the Constitution, not to one president, and I suspect it’s a tough day for a lot of career prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice. This is a critical moment for rule of law in our country.”