DOJ walkout puts frayed relationships with William Barr in spotlight

The Lead's legal panel discusses.

Posted: Feb 12, 2020 6:10 PM
Updated: Feb 12, 2020 6:10 PM

Attorney General William Barr and his lieutenants have increasingly exerted authority in politically sensitive investigations at the Justice Department, fraying relationships with prosecutors at the powerful US attorney's office in Washington, DC, and leading to an unprecedented walkout of the career attorneys handling the Roger Stone case.

People familiar with the situation at the DC US attorney's office said other prosecutors have discussed resigning in the coming days following the Justice Department leadership's decision to disavow and claw back a sentencing recommendation that prosecutors had made in the case of Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump.

Barr, who has a reputation in the department as a micromanager, has played a role in other high-profile cases that are of particular interest to Trump, including in the final stages of the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Barr's role in the Stone debacle this week has elevated perennial allegations of political tampering at the Justice Department, and drew immediate calls from Democrats for an investigation.

It has also raised concerns about possible interference in other politically charged cases such as one in New York's southern district where prosecutors are investigating Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer. Barr has been keeping tabs on the case with periodic briefings from New York prosecutors, but he is not personally involved in the case, Justice officials say, leaving New York prosecutors to manage the investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump doubled down, punishing Jessie Liu, an official who was accused was accused of weak-kneed oversight of significant cases when she had recently led the prosecuting office, and saluting Barr on Twitter for his intervention.

"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," Trump wrote early Wednesday.

Friction inside the Justice Department

It's not unusual for political appointees at the Justice Department to disagree with or even overrule trial attorneys on significant steps in a prosecution, but the public spat between the two sides this week quickly devolved into controversy. One by one, the line prosecutors who had handled the Stone trial announced their withdrawals from the case in court filings Tuesday afternoon. One resigned from his job at the Justice Department altogether.

The prosecutors on the Stone case, two of whom had served under former special counsel Robert Mueller, had calculated on Monday night that Stone deserved a stiff sentence: seven to nine years in prison, including an increased penalty for threats that Stone made to a witness in the case.

Even though the original Stone filing had been discussed with officials at the Justice Department, a senior department official told reporters Tuesday that the filing came as a surprise to top officials including the deputy attorney general and Barr, all of whom thought that an agreement had been reached to seek a less-lengthy prison term.

The official blamed the discrepancy on a breakdown in communication between the DC prosecuting office and Justice Department headquarters, known as main justice. A Justice Department spokeswoman said that the decision to retract the original recommendation was made Monday night -- before Trump criticized it in a Twitter post -- and without consultation from the White House.

The Justice Department's revised recommendation for Stone is that his sentence will be left entirely up to the judge, but about three to four years in prison would be more in line with his crimes of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.

A judge will have the final say on how much time prison time Stone will face. He is set to be sentenced next week in DC federal court.

The friction inside the Justice Department has also come to a head in Flynn's case in recent weeks. Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general who was the first to helm Trump's national security council, pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contact with the then Russian ambassador to the US, but has in recent months waged a campaign to portray himself as a victim of malicious prosecution.

This has led to heated debates between prosecutors from the DC US attorney's office overseeing the case, who wanted Flynn to serve prison time for his admitted crime, and top officials at the Justice Department, who advocated for the government to stick to its original sentencing recommendation filed last year that called for Flynn to avoid any prison time, according to people briefed on the matter.

The disagreement played out in discordant court filings, though less spectacularly than the public dispute in the Stone case.

In one filing, prosecutors stuck to sentencing guidelines that dictated Flynn receive zero to six months behind bars, but leaned heavily in favor of Flynn serving at least some prison time, angering Barr and other senior department leaders who had thought the prosecutors weren't going to seek prison time, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Liu had advocated for a recommendation of no prison time, but later told her bosses that she acquiesced to prosecutors under her who were pushing for a harder line, the person briefed on the matter said.

After Flynn's lawyers attacked the approach, prosecutors said in a subsequent filing that a sentence of probation would be "reasonable." On Wednesday, prosecutors wrote in a new filing that the judge overseeing the case should deny Flynn's request to reverse his guilty plea, signifying that the office stood behind its case.

Liu becomes a casualty

Liu's actual contribution to some of the cases the President cares about was limited or nonexistent, and at other times, she advocated for positions that the President would support. However, her role atop the office, which also was overseeing the languishing prosecution of Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and target of the president who is now a CNN contributor, had weakened her standing among an influential group of lawmakers and White House allies.

Trump nominated Liu to a senior position at the Treasury Department last year, but on Wednesday officially withdrew it. The announcement -- just a day before she was set to appear for a confirmation hearing in the Senate -- was made by Trump himself, a person familiar with the situation said.

The withdrawal followed lobbying to sink her nomination that also came from supporters of Flynn, according to another person familiar with the matter. Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs, who counts Trump among his viewers, on Tuesday accused Liu of softening her office's case against a former Senate aide convicted in relation to sensitive leaks, and suggested that she had helped "cover up" his ties to the origins of the Russia investigation. Both of Dobb's claims were presented without evidence.

Barr had advocated for the President to stick by Liu's nomination in recent weeks as the campaign against her nomination kept building and appeared to be making headway with Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter. Justice Department officials were surprised to learn on Tuesday that Trump had pulled her nomination.

On Wednesday, several prosecutors from the DC US Attorney's Office went about their business at the federal courthouse in Washington, attending criminal hearings as representatives of the Justice Department in a variety of less newsworthy cases. One, when approached by CNN, said he was staying true to his ideals.

Michael Marando, one of the Stone prosecutors who withdrew from the Stone case, was among those at the courthouse Wednesday, but he did not have any cases listed publicly. Late-morning, he sat alone in the building's cafeteria, looking at his cellphone and eating a bowl of soup. He refused to comment, exiting before the lunch rush.

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 42°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 37°
Huntsville/Madison
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 38°
Decatur
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 37°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 37°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 424028

Reported Deaths: 6121
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62258921
Mobile30381549
Madison27160186
Tuscaloosa20779267
Montgomery19049305
Shelby18572114
Baldwin16346182
Lee12515101
Morgan12260113
Etowah11757168
Calhoun11161200
Marshall10199107
Houston8630148
Cullman8036105
Limestone802874
Elmore7849101
DeKalb768897
Lauderdale760083
St. Clair7555120
Talladega6180108
Walker5903174
Jackson581341
Colbert533573
Blount530883
Autauga519855
Coffee443956
Dale398581
Franklin367548
Chilton337665
Russell331710
Covington327768
Escambia319342
Dallas303396
Chambers284269
Clarke282133
Tallapoosa2617107
Pike249429
Marion246250
Lawrence244247
Winston227335
Bibb216247
Geneva202535
Marengo199729
Pickens197031
Hale176442
Barbour173036
Butler170258
Fayette169026
Cherokee160530
Henry154421
Monroe145617
Randolph140735
Washington137726
Clay126745
Crenshaw119544
Lamar118219
Cleburne117723
Macon115035
Lowndes110735
Wilcox103121
Bullock99128
Perry97719
Conecuh94420
Sumter89126
Greene76123
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 687751

Reported Deaths: 8430
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby765191128
Davidson70950665
Knox38829400
Hamilton34687327
Rutherford33228285
Unassigned22839126
Williamson21449140
Sumner18262232
Out of TN1618380
Montgomery14450149
Wilson14449157
Sullivan12606211
Blount11914125
Washington11911191
Maury10962123
Bradley1079191
Sevier10495108
Putnam9952136
Madison9131179
Robertson764585
Hamblen6990109
Anderson6792103
Greene6598108
Tipton621065
Gibson5639111
Coffee562882
Cumberland540072
Dickson536378
Bedford532589
Roane521279
Carter5109112
Lawrence508969
McMinn508573
Warren498753
Loudon495550
Jefferson477975
Dyer474982
Monroe457162
Hawkins446268
Franklin412161
Obion399679
Fayette397851
Rhea382456
Lincoln379444
Marshall345436
Cocke343856
Weakley339948
Cheatham336230
Henderson333057
Campbell324540
Giles321772
White311343
Carroll310459
Hardeman309452
Hardin298147
Lauderdale293731
Macon288850
Wayne261319
Henry260858
Overton253843
DeKalb242341
Haywood239845
McNairy238642
Smith231327
Trousdale228814
Marion228431
Scott225431
Hickman223534
Fentress212831
Claiborne212729
Grainger209035
Johnson201832
Morgan189015
Crockett180738
Bledsoe174210
Chester173837
Unicoi167043
Cannon157719
Lake155519
Decatur147326
Polk143617
Union139422
Grundy139321
Sequatchie137118
Humphreys132817
Benton132135
Lewis127520
Meigs114416
Stewart105520
Jackson104021
Perry94725
Clay93926
Houston93922
Moore8009
Pickett67919
Van Buren6607
Hancock4056

Community Events