Emboldened Trump seeks revenge post impeachment trial
Rep. Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, tonight reacted to the decision by Justice Department leadership to change the sentencing recommended for Roger Stone by the prosecutors on the case, blasting Attorney General Bill Barr, saying, “It’s really as bad as you can get.”
Demings, a Florida Democrat on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, on MSNBC tonight added that it “is just very disappointing, but it’s also very scary.”
“The attorney general has taken the Department of Justice and is using it as a tool to basically free the president’s friends who are engaged in wrongdoing and to basically investigate and maybe even prosecute the president’s political rivals," Demings said.
Some context: On Tuesday, all four federal prosecutors who took the case against Stone to trial withdrew after top DOJ officials undercut them and disavowed the government’s recommended sentence against Stone.
The House Judiciary Committee is not planning to have staff attorneys question Attorney General William Barr when he testifies next month, according to a Democratic aide, which was the proposed hearing arrangement last year that prompted Barr not to attend.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said today he wasn’t ruling anything out yet. But the aide said the committee does not plan on using staff attorneys like the format for the impeachment inquiry hearings.
Nadler said in a letter this afternoon that Barr has agreed to appear on March 31, and that the committee will question him on the Roger Stone sentencing reversal, Rudy Giuliani’s arrangement to provide Ukraine information and the nomination of Jesse Liu, among other topics at the oversight hearing.
Asked about the hearing not occurring for over a month, Nadler said there were still actions the committee could take in the interim.
“We’re endeavoring to hold hearings before that date,” he said.
Nadler declined to discuss any details about whom he might seek to testify.
Some historical context: Last year, Barr balked at testifying about the Mueller report after the committee said staff attorneys would get time to ask question in addition to the members. The no-show sparked a standoff between the attorney general and the committee over the Mueller report, and Barr has not yet appeared before the panel since he was confirmed as attorney general last year.
A juror on the Roger Stone trial said she wants to “stand up” for the four prosecutors who withdrew from the case in response to their sentencing recommendation being changed by Department of Justice leadership.
Tomeka Hart said she had remained silent about the case for months out of concern for her safety and “politicizing the matter.”
But the events this week led to her to post on her Facebook account that she "can’t keep quiet any longer.” A copy of the posting was shared with CNN. Hart confirmed to CNN that she wrote the post but did not want to discuss it further.
Here's what she wrote:
“I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis – the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” she wrote in the post that was shared with CNN. “It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.”
Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, defended Attorney General William Barr’s decision to step in and overrule the four Justice Department prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations for President Trump ally Roger Stone.
Kennedy described it as a process problem whereby rules or protocol were not followed.
“If the reporting is accurate, the frontline prosecutors did not communicate with their supervisors,” Kennedy told CNN.
“When you're dealing with a public figure [Roger Stone in this case] frontline prosecutors can't act unilaterally. They can't act unilaterally in indicting. They can't act unilaterally in proceeding. They can’t act unilaterally in sentencing recommendations. They have to get the okay from their supervisors at Justice. And my understanding is based on reporting, that the frontline prosecutors did not clear their sentence recommendations with the supervisors at Justice, and they were overruled,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy however, did not defend Trump’s tweets congratulating Barr for stepping in, in which the President said, “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.”
Kennedy said, “Now, when the President tweeted out that made the whole thing problematic.”
Earlier today: Trump tweeted another complaint that stated, “Two months in jail for a Swamp Creature, yet 9 years recommended for Roger Stone (who was not even working for the Trump Campaign). Gee, that sounds very fair! Rogue prosecutors maybe? The Swamp!”
Kennedy said he failed to see a link between the President’s misgivings about the recommended 7-9 year sentence and Barr stepping in.
“I haven't seen any evidence that that Justice changed its position or formulated its position, based on the President's tweet, if somebody can show me evidence more than speculation I’ll begin to consider,” Kennedy said.
Attorney General William Barr will testify in March to address numerous concerns regarding his leadership of the Department of Justice and the President's "improper influence over the department," according to a letter from the House Judiciary Committee.
A letter from Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, which was signed by 23 Judiciary Committee Democratic members, claims that Barr "engaged in a pattern of conduct in legal matters relating to the President that raises significant concerns for this Committee."
"Since President Trump took office, we have repeatedly warned you and your predecessors that the misuse of our criminal justice system for political purposes is both dangerous to our democracy and unacceptable to the House Judiciary Committee. Our Republican colleagues have warned the Department of the same.We have been consistent—and bipartisan—in this message for years," Nadler wrote.
Barr is expected to testify on March 31.
Why this matters: Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for Barr to resign after top leadership at the Department of Justice stepped in to reduce a sentence recommendation of longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.
Trump thanked the Justice Department today for intervening in the case involving Stone.
President Trump said today he thinks the four federal prosecutors who resigned from the Roger Stone case "ought to go back to school and learn because the way they treated people, nobody should be treated like that."
Trump was asked by reporters whether he has any concern about their resignations after Justice Department officials disavowed their recommended sentence against Stone, Trump said, "I'm not concerned about anything."
Michael Caputo, a former adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and a longtime friend of Roger Stone, confirmed today that he is leading an effort to have Stone pardoned.
The “Pardon Roger Stone” group was organized to raise money for Stone and his family, collect signatures in favor of a Stone pardon and create an avenue for the White House to discuss clemency with Stone’s associates.
“We're raising money, raising awareness and assuring the White House that we stand by for contact when and if they're ready,” Caputo said.
Caputo has not yet been in contact with the White House or the Justice Department about a Stone pardon. But the committee is the latest effort in a public and private lobbying campaign to convince Trump to pardon Stone.
Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser, was convicted on seven charges last year, including lying to Congress and witness tampering. He is set to be sentenced on Feb. 20 in Washington amid controversy over political intervention in his case.
The money raised would be devoted to legal fees and the Stone family's bills, Caputo said.
Stone has already been raising money for a legal defense fund to pay his attorney fees. But he would likely hire new lawyers if he appeals his sentence. If Stone is sentenced to jail time, there are concerns about how he and his wife would get by financially, Caputo said.
“They're completely destitute; they have no money,” Caputo said of the Stone family.
What happened this week: The four prosecutors overseeing Stone’s case withdrew Tuesday in a mass revolt after top Justice Department officials undermined them by disavowing prosecutors’ recommendation that Stone face seven to nine years in prison.
Caputo said the new group has arranged a committee to meet with White House officials to discuss a potential pardon – if the White House is interested.
“The path is fraught with peril: Peril for Roger, peril for the President and peril for us,” Caputo said. “It's a tightrope walk for all of us.”
A federal judge has denied Roger Stone a new trial after he made a request under seal, according to a notice from the court.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson made her ruling known on Wednesday, her first public response following the withdrawals of all prosecutors on the case. She has not yet acknowledged the prosecutor withdrawals.
The denial was decided last week, before the eruption over the government’s revised sentencing recommendation in the last few days.
Stone argued that his trial should be re-heard because one jurors should not have been allowed to be on the panel, according to the partially redacted order.
President Trump thanked the Justice Department today for intervening in the case involving his onetime campaign associate Roger Stone.
Trump, in a meeting with the Ecuadorean president in the Oval Office, again said he hadn’t spoken to the department about the case.
He declined to say whether he was considering a pardon for Stone, saying he didn’t want to discuss it yet.
And he insisted his tweet about a sentencing recommendation for Stone was not political interference.