Trump’s attacks on judges and prosecutors aren’t the worst part of his threat to the judicial system

This week alone, Donald Trump has attacked career prosecutors because they refused to go along with a political decision to interfere in the sentencing of one of Trump’s advisers. Trump has also taken multiple swings at the federal judge involved in the case, including demanding a do-over for his pal Roger Stone after Stone was convicted on seven out of seven counts. But as bad as those attacks on the justice system may be, there’s one other thrust from Trump that may be the most deadly to anything resembling impartial justice: Trump has been attacking jurors.

Leveraging a statement from the jury foreman that they thought the U.S. attorneys involved in the case were “honorable,” Trump has made multiple assertions that the jury was biased against Stone from the start. Not only that, but he has tweeted attacks against the jury foreman by name, destroying the concept that a private citizen serving on a jury out of civic duty deserves to be shielded from political pressure and threats.

Trump’s attack on the jurors isn’t just a head-on assault on the American system of jurisprudence; it’s also a slam at the attorneys. Not the U.S. attorneys—Stone’s attorneys. After all, every one of the jurors survived questioning and challenges from Stone’s legal team to be seated. The transcript of the jury selection even shows Stone’s team learning that a juror had previously been a Democratic candidate for office and declaring themselves fine with it. Trump is creating a standard by which there’s no trial in America that could hold up. Or at least, no trial that Trump wants to see hold up.

And it’s not just Trump. Naturally, Fox News is all-in on the idea of attacking the privacy and assumed independence of jurors. Judge Andrew Napolitano has been all over this topic, insisting that the juror had an obligation to reveal information that very much was revealed during the jury selection. In fact, Stone’s attorneys were absolutely aware that some of the jurors had political positions opposed to Trump, with the transcript showing an attorney questioning one potential juror’s previous response, repeating, “Your answer was supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Deeply opposed to everything Donald Trump stands for,” and the juror responding, “Yes.”

Stone’s attorney accepted that juror, along with others who said they had political positions opposed to Trump. There is no basis here for any retrial unless Stone wants to file an appeal on the grounds that his counsel was inadequate, which is a tough play, considering the essentially unlimited funds he had available to surround himself with a multimember team.

In many ways, Trump’s attack on the jurors resembles another campaign that he and his Republican allies just waged: the one against the intelligence community whistleblower whose information spurred the investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment. In that case, the whistleblower’s role was simply to bring information to the attention of authorities—no different than someone who called in on a tip line, or sent police anonymous information about a potential crime. The identity and motivations of the whistleblower mattered not one whit as soon as that role was performed. Not one piece of evidence came from the whistleblower. Not one action taken was based on testimony by the whistleblower.

But the IG whistleblower and Stone trial juror both represent something that Trump, and Fox, cannot stand: ordinary people trying to do the right thing, even in the face of pressure from the powerful. When that happens, Republicans spring into action. To attack. To threaten. To demean.

Because until people learn that they should just shut up around their betters, the world just can’t be the way that Trump and his allies demand.

Susan Collins is so concerned about Trump that she’s going to make a sternly worded phone call

The White House better be prepared. It’s going to get a sternly worded phone call from Sen. Susan Collins over the impeached president’s interference in the sentencing of Donald Trump’s buddy Roger Stone after his conviction in federal court. She told reporters that Wednesday, saying that Trump should "play no role whatsoever when it comes to sentencing recommendations" and that he "should not have commented" and that she wished he "would not tweet." No word on whether she's also going to talk about the tweeting on the phone call. But boy, that's sure going to strike terror in Trump's heart.

She also has questions for Attorney General William Barr, she says, but she's not sure if there should be any hearings yet over Trump and Barr turning the Department of Justice into Trump's defense counsel. She wouldn't want to be hasty. Still, a sternly worded phone call might be happening. I'm sure she really wishes it would help. But don't worry, she says, about Trump being "emboldened" by being let off the hook by her and her Republican pals.

Her time's up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

He wasn't acting out because he knows now that there are no limits to his power, now that the Senate will let him do literally anything. It's just him acting like a toddler, she says. He "often acts in an impulsive manner," she explained in a USA Today interview. "I think the president was angered by impeachment and that is reflected in the personnel choices he made," she said. Because that makes it so much better, the fact that he's now a 4-year-old on speed, and it had absolutely nothing to do with her.

No, she's not responsible at all for his behavior now. She was doing her solemn duty and certainly, she told the Bangor Daily News, if the president had committed "treason or bribery," she would definitely have voted to impeach. The House, however, called Trump's treason and bribery in withholding aid to Ukraine in order to force that country to interfere in the presidential election on his behalf "maladministration." So they didn't meet her bar.

But boy, Trump, she better not catch you doing this again, or you'll be in big trouble.

‘This is how democracies die’: House Democrats’ flagging urgency on Barr’s depravity is inexcusable

The rule of law is the very virtue that separates a democracy from a dictatorship. Though one’s ability to vote is a feature of democracy, elections are meaningless without a functional legal apparatus to safeguard them. People are allowed to cast votes in virtual dictatorships all the time, but their collective will is ultimately crushed by leaders who rig the outcomes. Without the rule of law America is doomed as a democracy, and the sanctity of the legal system is exactly what Donald Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, are working to dismantle in real time by turning the Department of Justice into a tool of the State.

Trump is reportedly seething after enduring three years of investigations for which he is constitutionally incapable of taking any responsibility. Sure, he called for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, and Russia followed suit almost immediately by hacking the Democratic National Committee. Sure, he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and withheld desperately needed funding and political backing to pressure him into doing so. But Trump is never wrong, can never be questioned, and surely has never been held accountable in his life. And now that he will carry the stain of impeachment to his grave, there’s going to be hell to pay and the nation’s top law enforcement officer has proven eager to help wherever possible.

But this goes way beyond the interference Barr ran last year on public release of the Mueller report, which otherwise would have been devastating to Trump. Barr is now intervening in the administration of justice on multiple cases, weaponizing the Justice Department against Trump’s political enemies, and shielding Trump’s allies from the full force of the law.

The list of interventions is simply staggering. In brief, they include a relentless effort to find wrongdoing by the officials at the FBI and CIA involved with launching the Russia investigation in 2016, taking specific aim at former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (who was already denied his pension benefits by Barr’s predecessor after decades of service at that bureau).

And on the leniency side, Barr has moved in recent weeks to lighten the punishment for two Trump loyalists and former campaign advisers, Mike Flynn and Roger Stone. In service of that goal, Barr removed the Senate-approved U.S. attorney in D.C. and replaced her in the interim with a close ally from his office, Timothy Shea, who has gladly done Barr’s bidding. Shea is the guy who earlier this week signed off on overruling the sentencing recommendations made by the four federal prosecutors on Stone’s case who have all since resigned in protest. While all these actions are indefensible, Barr’s interference with the sentencing recommendations of a Trump ally was so unprecedented that it has elicited an outcry from a groundswell of former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials.

“I’ve never seen so many prosecutors, including those who aren’t political or those who haven’t been following this situation closely, go to red alert so quickly,” Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. Attorney in the Obama administration, told the Washington Post. “The reason is this: If a president can meddle in a criminal case to help a friend, then there’s nothing that keeps him from meddling to harm someone he thinks is his enemy. That means that a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die.”

Vance’s prognosis isn’t hyperbole. America is teetering on the edge and Republican lawmakers have proven to be nothing but a herd of sycophantic lemmings. Unfortunately, House Democrats, who do have some agency, haven’t exactly been robust in their response. Barr has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing but not until March 31. 

At her weekly press conference Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Barr “a sad disappointment,” saying he had “deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing the Department of Justice sentencing recommendations” in the Stone case, among other things.

But frankly, Democrats should be jumping up and down about this in order to shine a public spotlight on the Justice Department’s turn toward becoming nothing short of an instrument of authoritarianism. How about a bicameral press conference? How about burying the Justice Department in subpoenas just to make a point? How about a speedier timeline for Barr’s hearing? Some actual outrage spiraling into public spectacle would be useful here. We need leadership to meet the moment so American voters will understand the stakes here and be fully operational when they hit the polls in November. 

Trump is abusing a judge, intimidating jurors, and attacking prosecutors to destroy justice

In defending his convicted co-conspirator Roger Stone, Donald Trump has attacked the investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in Stone’s federal case. On Thursday morning, with encouragement from Fox News, he moved on to attacking members of the jury. Trump has continued to show that there is no line he will not cross, because there are no lines. In the wake of his acquittal in the impeachment trial against him by the Republican-dominated Senate, Trump is unbound. He’s not testing the limits of the law; he’s making it clear that he is the law.

At the same time, Attorney General William Barr has made it known that he is personally stepping in to manipulate how punishment is handed down in America: more for Trump’s enemies, less for Trump’s friends. 

Since 2016, there has been no article that has proven its worth more times than Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” And one paragraph in particular clearly illuminates the last few days:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed.

Trump didn’t have to take over American media. Fox News came prepackaged before he even stepped onto the golden escalator. All Trump had to do was scream, “Fake news!” at every fact that squeezed onto a screen. The Republican Senate just upheld Trump’s right to disassemble the electoral system at his leisure. So now it’s time for collapsing that judiciary—and Trump isn’t even trying to do it without notice.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump has gone directly after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over the case of Roger Stone. This isn’t the first time Trump has demonstrated his willingness to demean a federal judge: He hadn’t even been elected when he attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel by claiming that his “Mexican heritage” made him biased in the Trump University case; and in 2018, Trump was so blatant in his attacks on District Court Judge Jon Tigar that even United States Chief Justice John Roberts objected. But Trump is targeting Jackson as part of what is clearly a campaign to create right-wing outrage. Trump has repeatedly hinted, and did again on Wednesday, that he will simply pardon Stone and Flynn when it comes down to it.

But pardoning them is not enough, not when he can use these cases to assault not just charges against Trump advisers who were caught and convicted for 2016 campaign activities, but the whole concept of impartial justice. Donald Trump isn’t hammering a judge who is being tough on a pal. He’s hammering apart the whole justice system.

On Thursday morning, Trump attacked the foreperson of Stone’s jury, saying that she had “significant bias.” What was the evidence of this bias? It was that the jurist—whom right-wing media outlets have, of course, named—made a Facebook post defending the four prosecutors who resigned after Barr stepped in to overturn their sentencing guidelines. The juror said that the prosecutors “acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.” As with his demands that the intelligence community whistleblower in the Ukraine plot be outed and interrogated, Trump is putting the jury, judge, and prosecutors on trial for Stone’s conviction.

All of this is aside from the fact that, thanks to Mitch McConnell, Trump has appointed 192 federal judges. That includes 51 appeals court judges and 137 district court judges, in addition to two Supreme Court justices that put conservatives in the driver’s seat of national policy for untold years to come. What Trump is doing now isn’t destroying the judicial system, because that work is pretty much done. He’s now rubbing out faith in the judicial system.

That’s why it’s unlikely that Stone will get an immediate pardon. As long as Stone can cool his heels at home, Trump and company will use his case for those two all-important purposes: destroying the republic and fundraising. That’s why members of Trump’s campaign team have already set up a fund supposedly dedicated to paying for Stone’s appeal and are running ads to reach out to Trump supporters in Stone’s name. Stone will probably get his pardon … when Trump has milked his crimes for maximum damage. In the meantime, Trump will tell outright lies about Judge Jackson, such as the claim that she put Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. She didn’t.

But the level of assault that Trump and Barr are staging on the remainder of the judicial system at this point demonstrates vividly that this is an endgame for democracy. Republicans didn’t do anything about Trump’s extorting a U.S. ally to cheat in the 2020 election. They’re not doing anything now about his abusing a judge, intimidating a juror, and tilting the scale of justice to favor his friends. They’re not going to do anything.

Except, perhaps, think about how nice elections will be when only Trump-approved candidates are allowed on the ballot.

Trump and Barr ramp up their abuses of power—and Senate Republicans are responsible for all of it

This is what a liberated post-acquittal Donald Trump looks like: not chastened, as some of the more dishonest Senate Republicans said they hoped he would be, but ever more brazen in his corruption and his destruction of democratic institutions. Tuesday was a nightmare for justice in the United States of America, with three top prosecutors either stepping down from the case or resigning entirely as Attorney General William Barr obeyed a Trump tweet and intervened in the sentencing recommendations for Trump buddy Roger Stone.

That came after the news that Barr is working with Rudy Giuliani to dig up and launder dirt on Trump’s political opponents, and after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from their White House jobs because he testified at the impeachment inquiry. Trump and Barr are committing the abuses, but every single Republican senator other than Mitt Romney gave them permission. Said “Go right ahead, we won’t do a thing about it.”

Every day that goes by and every new abuse that Trump commits shows why it's so important to retake the Senate. Please dig deep to defeat vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

I’m talking about Susan Collins, up for reelection in Maine. Cory Gardner, up for reelection in Colorado. Joni Ernst, in Iowa. Thom Tillis, in North Carolina. Kelly Loeffler, who will be facing Georgia voters for the first time after being appointed to replace former Sen. Johnny Isakson. David Perdue, also in Georgia, meaning there are two Senate seats at stake in one state. Martha McSally, who lost a Senate election in Arizona in 2018 and was appointed to a Senate seat anyway—she needs to lose for a second time in a row. 

Every single one of these people voted to let Trump continue his lawlessness. They voted that way when any halfway sensible person knew that he would take the vote as permission to do more and worse. These senators intended to give him that permission—and do more and worse he has. He has been publicly vindictive against Vindman for daring to testify to what Trump did on Ukraine. His attorney general is systematically perverting the administration of justice to cater to Trump’s personal desires, to protect his friends and persecute his opponents, making a mockery of the Justice Department's mission statement to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” 

Every Republican senator but Mitt Romney voted to tell Trump that he is above the law. In 2020, voters can make some of them pay for that. Give now to send the opposite message—that no one is above the law—by defeating these Republicans in 2020.

William Barr officially becomes Trump’s personal attorney—with power to persecute or pardon anyone

On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted that the sentencing recommendations for his longtime associate Roger Stone were unfair. Stone, who was convicted in federal court on seven counts, including lying to Congress and obstruction, including death threats against a judge and threats to murder a witness’ dog, could have received 20 years in prison or more. The recommended sentence of seven to nine years was solidly in the middle of the possible range and was made by a quartet of veteran prosecutors.

But rather than ignoring Trump’s tweet, within hours Attorney General William Barr had instructed the Department of Justice to take an appallingly unprecedented move. The DOJ announced that it was overruling the action of the U.S. attorneys in order to reduce Stone’s suggested sentence—even as Trump threatened to pardon his henchman altogether. It was a moment when American justice teetered on the edge.

Then, overnight, it fell over completely. And the attorney general of the United States officially became Trump’s personal attorney.

Three of the four U.S. attorneys who signed on to Stone’s sentencing recommendation have now withdrawn from the case in protest. At least one has resigned from the DOJ entirely. Rather than seeing this as a moment to rethink how much he had been putting his thumb on the scale of justice, Trump responded by slamming down his whole fat hand. Trump spent the night mocking and threatening the career prosecutors, accusing them of being allies of Robert Mueller, then accusing Mueller of lying to Congress—one of the same charges on which Roger Stone was convicted.

It was a staggering sequence of events—Trump demanding a lighter sentence for someone who participated in both collusion and obstruction for Trump’s own campaign; Barr stepping in to give Trump what he wants; U.S. attorneys who had spent their whole careers with the Justice Department protesting in the only way available to them by resigning; Trump responding by mocking them and threatening to prosecute both them and others. In a matter of just a few hours, every possible flare had been launched to reveal that the Department of Justice wasn’t just being politicized—it was being corrupted, turned into an instrument of Trump’s will.

And then Barr doubled down. As NBC News reports, Barr has taken “control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump.” That includes persecution of Trump’s enemies, such as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. That includes protecting Trump allies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr isn’t turning the Justice Department into a political instrument—he’s already done that. He’s using his role to create revisionist history and to actively support and generate nothing less than corruption.

The entire Ukraine plot underlying the impeachment of Donald Trump revolved around a corrupt prosecutor general who persecuted political opponents but refused to go after his allies, no matter how large their crimes. And what Trump learned from this is was that that way of operating was a really good idea.

Fortunately, Trump already had William Barr on hand. Barr has already proven, with his manipulation of the special counsel’s report and his round-the-world conspiracy hunt, that he’s up to the job. And now the attorney general of the United States has officially made himself Donald Trump’s personal attorney—except that this personal attorney has the ability to protect Trump’s friends, persecute his enemies, and bring an end to the idea of apolitical justice in America.

Barr’s interference in Stone’s case follows his already reaching into that of Michael Flynn. Flynn, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, whose convictions were limited to lying to the FBI only because he had made a deal to provide information to the FBI in a number of other cases—including his illegal lobbying for Turkey and his participation in a plot to kidnap a U.S. resident cleric and return him to certain death in Turkey—began backing away from his deal and stalling on sentencing hearings last year. As a result of Flynn breaking his deal, prosecutors recommended a six-month sentence—and an angry judge seemed to agree that Flynn was still getting off easy. Then, in the midst of the process, Barr withdrew the attorney who had been handling Flynn’s case from the beginning and replaced him with a new attorney who rewrote the sentencing guidelines to suggest that there was no need for Flynn to be punished for his lying, obstruction, and defiance of investigators. Instead, the new recommendation was probation.

What’s happening in both the Flynn and the Stone cases is an overt subversion of the role of the attorney general and the Department of Justice. And Trump isn’t backing away—far from it. He has stated that he has an “absolute right” to tell the DOJ what to do. In addition to threatening the attorneys who withdrew from the case, Trump also expressed “congratulations” to Bill Barr in his new role of minister of justice, or prosecutor general, or whatever. 

When the Republicans in the Senate voted to allow Trump to get away with abuse of power and obstruction, he did learn a lesson. But it was the same lesson he’d learned before—that he can do anything. There are no laws except the laws that Trump declares. No justice except that which he permits. No republic remaining except what he deigns to allow.

That may seem like an exaggeration. It’s not.