WASHINGTON – William Barr was sworn in as the 85th attorney general of the United States exactly one year ago. But the week of his one-year anniversary was a turbulent one.
Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendation – coupled with President Donald Trump’s critical tweets – caused a shakeup in the prosecution team and appeared to rattle the attorney general. Then Barr’s Justice Department decided not to charge former deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, a favorite Trump target.
Here’s everything you need to know about a crazy week at the Department of Justice:
Roger Stone drama
Sentencing recommendation and fall out
Federal prosecutors wanted Trump’s ally Roger Stone to serve seven to nine years in prison after he was found guilty in November of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
The 67-year-old longtime GOP operative is the latest Trump ally to be convicted in cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Shortly after the recommendation, Trump claimed that the sentencing recommendation was ” very unfair.”
Soon after, the DOJ backed away from the sentence recommended for Stone. In a matter of hours, four attorneys who worked on Stone’s case and prepared the sentencing recommendation abruptly quit the prosecution team. One quit the DOJ entirely.
Though a DOJ official said the about-face was not influenced by Trump, it raised new questions about the politicization of the agency, and Democrats called for an investigation, accusing the department of political meddling in a criminal prosecution.
Trump targets career prosecutors. Here’s how they came up with a stiff sentence for Stone
The four career prosecutors who quit the prosecution team, Jonathan Kravis, Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed and Michael Marando, became the target of Trump’s anger.
However, legal experts said the original sentencing recommendation for Stone wasn’t unreasonable for the crimes for which he was found guilty.
In Stone’s case, prosecutors considered several aggravating factors: threatening to harm someone, interfering with the administration of justice, engaging in a crime that spans years, and obstructing the prosecution.
Also, the prosecutors argued that Stone’s conduct after he was indicted in January 2019 amounted to obstruction as he repeatedly violated the judge’s order not to speak publicly about the case.
Stone asks for a new trial
Stone was supposed to be sentenced next week, but a motion filed Friday to seek a new trial could delay the sentencing.
The motion was filed after Trump tweeted that one of the jurors was “significantly biased.” Trump was attacking a woman who revealed on Facebook that she had been the forewoman of the jury that convicted Stone last year.
Barr’s role as Attorney General
Trump congratulates the AG
Following the DOJ’s intervention in the Stone case, Barr cemented his role as Trump’s defender-in-chief.
From the White House there was warm acknowledgement from an appreciative Trump.
“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,” the president tweeted Wednesday, a day after the prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case in apparent protest.
Barr: Trump’s tweets make it ‘impossible for me to do my job’
Barr, in an unusual break with Trump, said Thursday that the president’s habit of tweeting about criminal cases has made it “impossible for me to do my job.”
During an interview with ABC News, Barr asserted that the president “has never asked me to to anything in a criminal case,” including Stone’s.
Trump reacted in a tweet that he has ‘legal right’ to intervene in criminal cases, including Stone’s, brushing aside the criticism from his own attorney general. But White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump “wasn’t bothered” by what Barr said.
Trump has repeatedly noted that the attorney general serves at his pleasure. He fired Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, after a public dispute over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Barr to testify before Congress
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that Barr will be testifying before them on March 31st.
In a Wednesday letter to Barr, the committee said he would be questioned about “the misuse of our criminal justice system for political purposes” and was confirming his “agreement to testify.”
Democrats laid out multiple issues they felt have been “dangerous for our democracy and unacceptable to the House Judiciary Committee,” including the Roger Stone case.
Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, won’t face criminal charges
The DOJ will not file criminal charges in a leak investigation of McCabe, ending an investigation that has hung over the former deputy FBI director for two years.
Trump has called for the prosecution of several former FBI officials, including McCabe, who opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump in 2017, after the president fired FBI director James Comey.
The investigation into McCabe, who became acting FBI director after Trump fired Comey, stemmed from a Justice Department Inspector General’s report that found he improperly authorized a leak about a federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Investigators concluded he displayed a lack of candor when asked about the leak.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances and all of the information known to the Government at this time, we consider the matter closed,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia told McCabe’s attorneys in a letter Friday.
DOJ will review case of Trump ally, Michael Flynn
Barr appointed an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who is awaiting sentencing in federal court after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.
Flynn and his attorneys have now sought to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming the FBI and federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct.
Barr has tapped Jeffrey Jensen, the chief federal prosecutor in St. Louis nominated by Trump in 2017, to conduct the review. Jensen was selected weeks ago to look into concerns raised by Flynn’s defense team.
Flynn’s case was one of the first criminal charges brought by Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Kristine Phillips, Bart Jansen, John Fritze, Dennis Wagner