WASHINGTON – Several Republican lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s comments on the prison sentencing of longtime ally Roger Stone, an issue that prompted swift calls for investigations by Democrats and criticism that the president was interfering in a criminal investigation.
“I don’t think he should be commenting on cases in the system,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
A handful of others agreed. “The president should not have gotten involved,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.
“I think the president’s tweet aggravated the situation,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who added, “He’s entitled to tweet. I wish he’d tweet less, but that’s not gonna happen.”
Prosecutors originally recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison after being convicted in November of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his campaign. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted the recommendation was unfair and called it a “miscarriage of justice” that shouldn’t be allowed. Hours later, the Justice Department said it would reduce the sentencing recommendation.
After the announcement of the altered recommendation, four career prosecutors involved in the case withdrew – and one left the Justice Department entirely. Justice Department officials denied Trump played a role in their decision to reduce the recommendation.
While Democrats called for an investigation and asked that Attorney General William Barr be brought before Congress to testify, other Senate Republicans largely shrugged off the concerns.
Even while some believed the president should not have gotten involved in the issue, they did not believe it warranted a congressional investigation. Many called the sentencing extreme and said the president has a right to be skeptical of federal prosecutors due to investigations into Russia and his campaign that clouded his first two years in office.
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that leadership would intervene if they see an injustice,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Either way, if they see either too harsh of penalties or too light of penalties. It’s appropriate for them to intervene.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said the concerns about the president’s involvement appeared exaggerated. “I think it’s a lot of fodder. Doesn’t seem to be a fire.”
Trump continued to weigh in on the case Wednesday, praising Barr for “taking charge” of Stone’s sentencing recommendation. “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 tweeted.
The comments, along with the president’s removal of several administration officials who testified against him in the House’s impeachment inquiry, raised questions about Trump’s conduct in the aftermath of his impeachment trial.
Asked about whether she believed Trump learned any lesson from his impeachment, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said, “Well, there haven’t been very strong indicators this week that he has.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican who was the sole GOP vote to convict the president on one of the impeachment articles, said he didn’t expect the president to change his ways.
“I don’t know that you’re seeing anything different today than you have in the past,” Romney said. “The president’s who he is, he doesn’t change a lot.”
Contributing: David Jackson