On Sunday, more than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General William Barr to step down over his handling of the Roger Stone matter. The letter is an overreaction to the substance of what happened. But it highlights the serious dangers of President Donald Trump’s attacks and complaints about the Justice Department; and it underscores how Barr himself, through acquiescence and action, has contributed to the perceived politicization of law enforcement in the Justice Department.
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Here is what the controversy is about. In November 2019, while Barr was attorney general, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecuted and convicted Roger Stone for obstruction of justice, false statements, and witness tampering. On February 10, 2020, prosecutors recommended that Stone receive a seven- to nine-year sentence. Early the next morning, February 11, at 1:48 a.m., Trump tweeted:
Later that morning, a senior Justice Department official said that the department was “shocked” by the sentencing recommendation and would “clarify its position in court later today.” Trump spent the day tweeting criticisms of the Stone prosecutors and the judge presiding over the Stone case, Amy Berman Jackson. That afternoon, prosecutors on the case quit, and one resigned from the department. In the late afternoon, the department announced its new position on sentencing, arguing that “a sentence of incarceration far less” than the original recommendation would be “reasonable under the circumstances.” And then the next morning, February 12, Trump tweeted: