Attorney General William Barr is facing significant criticism following a report last week that he personally intervened to ease prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Trump surrogate and witness tamperer Roger Stone — a situation that Trump then confirmed on Twitter. While Democratic lawmakers claimed that Barr’s interference has “deeply damaged the rule of law,” a cavalcade of former DOJ officials came forward over the weekend demanding that the attorney general resign for undermining the department’s independence.
On Sunday, Protect Democracy — a non-profit, non-partisan group dedicated to “fighting attacks [on] fully informed self-government” — published a petition calling for Barr to step down. Over the next 24 hours, the petition grew to include over 2,000 signatures from former Department of Justice officials. The call, and its broad support among ex-DOJ experts, helps place in context just how irregular the attorney general’s actions were:
It is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.
Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies … [The attorney general’s] actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign.
Perhaps the most important voice in the group belonged to former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, who wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic calling for Barr to step down. Just as important as Ayer’s station is his time in the DOJ: Barr was the successor to Ayer in the deputy AG role under President George H.W. Bush. According to Ayer:
The benefit of the doubt that many were ready to extend to Barr a year ago—as among the best of a bad lot of nominees who had previously served in high office without disgrace—has now run out. He has told us in great detail who he is, what he believes, and where he would like to take us. For whatever twisted reasons, he believes that the president should be above the law, and he has as his foil in pursuit of that goal a president who, uniquely in our history, actually aspires to that status. And Barr has acted repeatedly on those beliefs in ways that are more damaging at every turn. Presently he is moving forward with active misuse of the criminal sanction, as one more tool of the president’s personal interests.
Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.
The concern was shared among active members of the federal judiciary as well. On Monday, USA Today reported that the independent Federal Judges Association — dedicated to supporting a “fair, impartial and independent judiciary” — has called an emergency meeting following Barr’s actions. The head of the organization, Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, told the paper that it “could not wait” until its scheduled conference to determine how to handle the ongoing crisis within the Department of Justice.