US Attorney General William Barr has received criticism after his Justice Department sought to reduce the amount of prison time for Roger Stone, a Trump confidant accused of lying to Congress and playing a key role in seeking help from Russian hackers to influence the 2016 election.
In January, Stone was indicted by a grand jury for his role in trying to discredit Trump adversaries during the campaign by using stolen emails. During the trial, federal prosecutors recommended that Stone receive seven to nine years in jail for his crimes.
On Monday, February 10, however, the Justice Department overruled its prosecutors, saying that Stone should receive ”far less” than the recommended time. This led to a firestorm of controversy, with many critics accusing Barr using the platform of the Justice Department to give deference to one of Trump’s closest advisers.
Barr to testify
Though the Justice Department denies any wrongdoing, Barr has received significant pushback for his decision. After the announcement, the four lawyers who prosecuted the case quit in protest.
Democrats have been adamant that Barr should testify before Congress to explain what happened in the lead up to the announcement of the reduced sentencing. Barr has agreed to testify, and the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have written him a letter confirming his testimony date for March 31, 2020.
In a televised interview that aired on Thursday evening, Barr pushed back against the notion that President Trump specifically tried to influence Justice Department decisions, but also made it clear that his public tweets on the case were troublesome.
President Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr said, but added that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
The criticism of the president from one of his appointees echoes similar sentiments from other top aides in recent years, including John Bolton, his former National Security Advisor, and John Kelly, his former Chief of Staff.
On Tuesday, before the Justice Department had announced that they would seek reduced sentencing in the case against Stone, Trump tweeted about it several times, calling the indictment “horrible and very unfair,” and warning that the country “cannot allow this miscarriage of justice.”
On Wednesday, following the Justice Department’s announcement, Trump tweeted approval for Barr’s handing of the case, congratulating Barr “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”