Thursday, February 13, 2020

AG Barr reduces DOJ reputation to 'tatters' as Trump attacks federal judge

The Daily Beast reports that Groveling Barr Just Pissed Away DOJ’s Greatest Power. The department’s hard-earned reputation for factual honesty and legal credibility is in tatters now.

You should remember, if for no other reason than repetition at this blog, the simple formula guiding the Trump administration: X/AntiX. That is, for a given X (agency or institution), appoint a leader who is AntiX. That is exactly what Trump did to DOJ when he appointed Barr as AG.

William Barr didn’t really help Roger Stone by overriding his own prosecutors — four of whom walked away from the case they’d already won in protest — to recommend a lighter sentence for Trump’s longtime dirty trickster and newly convicted felon Roger Stone. But the attorney general is doing his part to trash the reputation and authority of the Department of Justice he leads, and to make clear that there is no higher authority in Donald Trump’s America than a presidential tweet.

The DOJ is among the most powerful arms of the federal government because of its role in enforcing the nation’s laws But the department’s power is inextricably tied to the respect its lawyers enjoy in the courts. The Solicitor General, whose office argues the federal government’s cases before the Supreme Court, is traditionally referred to as the “Tenth Justice,” because of the deference given to his arguments. The same holds true for line-level federal prosecutors, whose arguments on behalf of the DOJ are given great deference by most federal judges because of the department’s reputation for demanding the highest standards of factual honesty and legal credibility.

That reputation is in tatters now.

To make matters worse, Trump takes on Judge Amy Berman Jackson ahead of Roger Stone’s sentencing reports the Washington Post.

First he went after the prosecutors who recommended a multiyear sentence for his friend Roger Stone. Then President Trump turned his Twitter ire to the “witch hunt disgrace” of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which led to Stone’s indictment. But perhaps most surprising was Trump’s decision to target U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — who will determine Stone’s fate when he appears in her courtroom next Thursday.

It was not the first time Trump had gone after a federal judge or questioned the judiciary, but Tuesday’s attack was nevertheless vexing to current and former judges as Jackson prepares to decide whether to send the president’s friend to prison — and for how long.

… Trump’s criticism comes as Stone’s sentencing is pending and the president is being lobbied to pardon his friend. Michael Caputo, a former campaign adviser to Trump, on Wednesday announced a committee to raise money for Stone’s appeal alongside a petition drive for him to be pardoned.

"Roger Stone stood up for Donald Trump. Now America should stand up for Roger Stone. Please take just a few seconds to help by signing the petition to pardon Roger Stone!” says the committee’s website.

When asked Wednesday by reporters whether he was considering a pardon for Stone, Trump said, “I don’t want to say that yet.”

This story is far from being over: “a pardon for stone” is just a “yet” away.

In the meantime …

A week from now, Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in this case, will decide the matter of Stone’s sentencing. She’s been the target of Stone and Trump. But she is tough.

Jackson has already tangled with Stone. Last February, a photo of the judge on Stone’s Instagram account seemed to violate a gag order she had imposed on him because of concerns about pretrial publicity. The image appeared to show a gun sight’s crosshairs next to a photo of Jackson’s face. Stone said he wasn’t sure who posted the image, but he said he viewed it as a Celtic cross. He apologized for it.

Paul G. Cassell, a former federal judge in Utah, called the personal nature of the president’s attacks “highly unusual and an extraordinary departure from the way things are ordinarily handled.”

But, he said, the nation’s system of government insulates judges from political pressure because they are appointed for life. While most judges would prefer not to be the target of attacks on social media, including from the president, he said, the independence of the judiciary provides protection from repercussions.

“Judge Jackson will simply move forward and decide the case,” said Cassell, now a law professor at the University of Utah, “and ignore the surrounding atmospherics from the president and the others who are responding to him.”

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