A few days after President Donald Trump's acquittal in the Senate, the word impeachment resounded in Washington. The target this time around, however, is different: U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who has been criticized for allegedly interfering in court to defend the interests of Trump and his friends. The case drags the Republican presidency into yet another scandal and reinforces the war of narratives in the polarized American nation.
The alarm sounded on Tuesday (11), when Trump criticized, via Twitter, the sentencing recommendation of prosecutors in the lawsuit against Roger Stone, his friend and political adviser in his 2016 presidential campaign. "This is a horrible and very unfair, "wrote Trump.
Just hours later, the Justice Department, led by Barr, signaled that he would ask for the case prosecutors' recommendation to be overturned and suggest a more lenient sentence for Stone. The measure did not please the prosecutors, who, in protest, abandoned the case – one even resigned from his post.
Suspicions of abuse of power and obstruction of justice were promptly raised. Barr apparently reportedly was pressured by Trump to reduce the sentence on the man who helped elect the president.
On the other hand, Republican allies went on to say that the Justice Department's action was a way to correct a sentence recommendation poisoned by the political bias of anti-Trump prosecutors.
The president's friend
To understand this new crisis involving the White House, we must first know, briefly, who Roger Stone is and why he was convicted by the American justice system.
Stone, 67, has been in American politics for more than 40 years. He was just coming out of his teens when he started his career in 1972 in the re-election campaign of former President Richard Nixon, whose face is tattooed on Stone's back.
The consultant also participated in the presidential campaign that culminated in Trump's election in 2016. Both were already familiar with Trump's frustrated electoral endeavor in the 2000s and the business world, as Stone worked as a lobbyist for the Republican's casinos. The most recent partnership between the two did not last long. Stone left the campaign in 2015, apparently after a fight with Trump. However, he maintained his support for Trump and publicly defended the president on several occasions.
In 2019, Stone was convicted of false testimony and witness coercion during the Congressional investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. According to the jury, Stone lied to congressmen about his connection with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who in 2016 published a series of emails from Hillary Clinton that undermined the Democratic campaign in that year's elections. Later, the office of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller concluded that the e-mails had been stolen by Russian hackers. Stone was also convicted of threatening a witness not to testify before Congress, which later revealed that he had not taken the coercion seriously.
The sentence he will receive for these convictions is still pending. Prosecutors criticized by Trump asked for 7 to 9 years in prison. "Roger Stone obstructed the Congressional investigation into Russian interference in 2016, he lied under oath. And when his crimes were exposed, he showed contempt for this court and the rules of the law. Therefore, it must be punished," wrote prosecutors. in the sentence recommendation.
Subsequently, the Justice Department overturned the prosecutors' request and recommended a "much shorter" prison sentence than the 7 to 9 years – a penalty that it considered excessive and unjustified in an obstruction case.
The Department of Justice's maneuver is not illegal, nor is it unusual. In an interview with the publication The New Yorker, Mary McCord, a professor at Georgetown Law School, explained that in cases of national repercussion, like Stone's, it is normal for prosecutors to discuss the sentence with their Justice Department superiors (in the US prosecutors obey the attorney general , who is also the head of the Department of Justice). To her, unless prosecutors changed the recommendation after the joint decision, it appears that the Department of Justice gave in to pressure from the president.
She also explained that it is not illegal for the attorney general to make a sentence recommendation based on what the president wants, since the Justice Department is part of the executive branch. "He (the attorney general) is appointed by the president and is expected to implement the president's policies," she told journalist Isaac Chotiner. However, she points out, there is historical recognition that it is important for the Department of Justice to maintain some distance from the White House when it comes to individual cases, such as Stone's, to ensure the department's independence and do justice.
Frustrated by Trump's acquittal in the impeachment process, Democrats began asking Barr to resign or face impeachment, following the attorney general's apparent decision to overturn the Roger Stone sentence recommended by prosecutors.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States, defended Barr's departure from the Department of Justice. "Congress must act immediately to contain our outlaw attorney general," wrote the senator on Twitter. "Barr must resign or face impeachment," he added.
Barr refuted Trump on Thursday, saying the president's tweets made it "impossible for me to do my job" and that he would not be "intimidated or influenced" by the president over court decisions. In an interview with ABC News, Barr acknowledged that his comments could give rise to negative reactions from Trump, but said he was determined to run the Justice Department without interference from outside forces, including the president.
Despite this, Trump again tweeted about the case early on Friday. In response to Barr's comment, which said the president never asked him to intervene in a criminal case, Trump said: "That doesn't mean that I don't have, as president, the legal right to do that, I do, but until then I chose not to do that! "
Under scrutiny by Democrats – and also by the American press and sectors of the left – Barr is due to testify to the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, in late March. In his testimony, he must answer questions from Congressmen about the alleged "misuse of the criminal justice system".