As the earliest results from New Hampshire showed Bernie Sanders with a slim lead in the Democratic race and Trump with a substantial one in the GOP’s technicality of a primary, NBC News reported that Attorney General William Barr has taken direct action in legal matters that are of personal interest to the president — twice in order to ease sentences for Trump allies.
Most recently, that involved the case against Trump surrogate Roger Stone: After prosecutors requested a sentence of seven to nine years for the GOP operative for witness tampering and lying to Congress, senior Department of Justice officials pushed for less prison time. (The action resulted in four prosecutors withdrawing from the case, which former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance called “a four-alarm fire at Justice.”) But as NBC News reports, the DOJ action wasn’t a first:
Senior officials at the Justice Department also intervened last month to help change the government’s sentencing recommendation for Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. While the prosecutors had once recommended up to six months in jail, their latest filing now says they believe probation would be appropriate.
In Roger Stone’s case, the revision states that the seven-to-nine year sentence “could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances” and that it does not “accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter.”
“I’ve never seen this happen, ever,” Gregory Brower, a former U.S. attorney for Nevada, told NBC News. “I’d be shocked if the judge didn’t order the U.S. attorney to come into court to explain it.”
Though a Justice Department spokesperson claims that Barr had no contact with the White House regarding Stone’s sentencing recommendation, the attorney general has mobilized the DOJ in favor of the presidency before. When reports emerged that the DOJ was considering an investigation into former FBI Director James Comey, New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote that Barr was “using the Department of Justice to selectively hold his opponents to the most exacting levels of legal scrutiny that are not broadly applied.”
The president ultimately may not need his attorney general to follow through on apparent plans to ease sentencing on his allies who have remained loyal to him. On Tuesday, Trump floated the idea of pardoning Roger Stone, and in response to a tweet advocating a “FULL PARDON for Roger Stone and Michael Flynn,” Trump suggested their cases were “prosecutorial misconduct.”