On Tuesday, Capitol Hill was dominated by a hearing with health experts, where the biggest news was that Trump hadn’t spoken to Dr. Anthony Fauci or any of his team on the subject of the pandemic in over two weeks. On Wednesday, the focus of the day shifts to the Department of Justice and how Attorney General William Barr has blown up the barriers that are supposed to exist between that agency and the White House.
The most critical testimony of the day is likely to come from attorney Aaron Zelinsky, who was formerly assigned as a prosecutor in the case against Trump campaign adviser, Roger Stone. Zelenski’s opening statement makes it clear that there was an unprecedented degree of political influence exerted on prosecutors. That included giving Stone unmatched leniency, including reducing the sentencing recommendation without cause, and bringing in a new attorney at Barr’s direction to give Stone kid-glove treatment. With Barr’s dismissal of the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York fresh off the headlines, and multiple voices from within the DOJ speaking up against the politicization of the department, the hearing can be expected to be contentious.Campaign Action
In his opening statement, Zelinsky is expected to say that, "What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject—and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.”
Since the release of Zelnsky’s statement, Barr has issued a reply which clarifies the situation, by making it worse. The statement shows that Barr personally intervened in Stone’s case, ordering the removal of sentencing guidelines. Laughably, Barr also maintains that stepping into this one case specifically to deal with Trump’s long-time friend and campaign adviser, was keeping the department “away from politics.”
Barr’s handling of the Justice Department may be unprecedented, but so is the Republican reaction. Republicans in both the House and Senate have been protective of Barr and Trump’s ability to turn the DOJ into an extension of Trump’s personal legal team and to overlook its use as a political tool—just as they’ve defended Trump’s right to use pardons to reward friends with protection from absolutely justified convictions.
The special treatment for Stone came after Barr fired U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu and replaced her with an acting attorney who was under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.” The way in which Liu was removed to clear the way for making things easy for Stone is a mirror of the legal musical chairs that has seen Barr replace the legal team handing charges against Michael Flynn. And it’s exactly why the removal of U. S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the midst of investigations of Rudy Giuliani and other Trump associates rang (and continues to ring) so many alarm bells. In all of these instances, Barr has removed experienced prosecutors taking a standard, apolitical approach to cases involving serious crimes, and replaced them with second-tier toadies who get their marching orders via Twitter. And in the case of both Stone and Flynn, Barr has used his personal authority to the benefit of Trump’s associates.
Barr has bent the law beyond the breaking point to protect Stone, and Flynn, and most of all Trump. What has happened with both Stone and Flynn, as the DOJ has revised and reduced sentencing proposals, isn’t just unprecedented or extraordinary, it’s corrupt. Republicans who defend these actions aren’t just protecting this corruption, they are rolling in it. Five months is not too short a time to conduct an impeachment.
The Judiciary Committee hearing on prosecutorial independence will begin at 12 PM ET.