On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted that the sentencing
recommendations for his longtime associate Roger Stone were unfair.
Stone, who was convicted in federal court on seven counts,
including lying to Congress and obstruction, including death
threats against a judge and threats to murder a witness’ dog,
could have received 20 years in prison or more. The recommended
sentence of seven to nine years was solidly in the middle of the
possible range and was made by a quartet of veteran
But rather than ignoring Trump’s tweet, within hours Attorney
Barr had instructed the Department of Justice to take an
appallingly unprecedented move. The DOJ announced that
it was overruling the action of the U.S. attorneys in order to
reduce Stone’s suggested sentence—even as Trump threatened to
pardon his henchman altogether. It was a moment when American
justice teetered on the edge.
Then, overnight, it fell over completely. And the attorney
general of the United States officially became Trump’s personal
Three of the four U.S. attorneys who signed on to Stone’s
sentencing recommendation have now withdrawn from the case in
protest. At least one has resigned from the DOJ entirely. Rather
than seeing this as a moment to rethink how much he had been
putting his thumb on the scale of justice, Trump responded by
slamming down his whole fat hand. Trump spent the night mocking and
threatening the career prosecutors, accusing them of being allies
of Robert Mueller, then accusing Mueller of lying to Congress—one
of the same charges on which Roger Stone was convicted.
It was a staggering sequence of events—Trump demanding a
lighter sentence for someone who participated in both collusion and
obstruction for Trump’s own campaign; Barr stepping in to give
Trump what he wants; U.S. attorneys who had spent their whole
careers with the Justice Department protesting in the only way
available to them by resigning; Trump responding by mocking them
and threatening to prosecute both them and others. In a matter of
just a few hours, every possible flare had been launched to reveal
that the Department of Justice wasn’t just being politicized—it
was being corrupted, turned into an instrument of Trump’s
And then Barr doubled down. As NBC News reports, Barr has taken “control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump.” That includes persecution of Trump’s enemies, such as former acting FBI
Director Andrew McCabe. That includes protecting
Trump allies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr isn’t
turning the Justice Department into a political instrument—he’s
already done that. He’s using his role
to create revisionist history and to actively support and
generate nothing less than corruption.
The entire Ukraine plot underlying the impeachment of Donald
Trump revolved around a corrupt prosecutor general who persecuted
political opponents but refused to go after his allies, no matter
how large their crimes. And what Trump learned from this is was
that that way of operating was a really good idea.
Fortunately, Trump already had William Barr on hand. Barr has
already proven, with his manipulation of the special counsel’s
report and his round-the-world conspiracy hunt, that he’s up to
the job. And now the attorney general of the United States has
officially made himself Donald Trump’s personal attorney—except
that this personal attorney has the ability to protect Trump’s
friends, persecute his enemies, and bring an end to the idea of
apolitical justice in America.
Barr’s interference in Stone’s case follows his already
reaching into that of Michael Flynn. Flynn, one of Trump’s
former national security advisers, whose convictions were limited
to lying to the FBI only because he had made a deal to provide
information to the FBI in a number of other cases—including his
illegal lobbying for Turkey and his participation in a plot to
kidnap a U.S. resident cleric and return him to certain death in
Turkey—began backing away from his deal and stalling on
sentencing hearings last year. As a result of Flynn breaking his
deal, prosecutors recommended a six-month sentence—and an angry
judge seemed to agree that Flynn was still getting off easy. Then,
in the midst of the process, Barr withdrew the attorney who had
been handling Flynn’s case from the beginning and replaced him
with a new attorney who rewrote the sentencing guidelines to
suggest that there was no need for Flynn to be punished for his
lying, obstruction, and defiance of investigators. Instead, the new
recommendation was probation.
What’s happening in both the Flynn and the Stone cases is an
overt subversion of the role of the attorney general and the
Department of Justice. And Trump isn’t backing away—far from
it. He has stated that he has an “absolute right” to tell the DOJ what to do. In addition to
threatening the attorneys who withdrew from the case, Trump also
expressed “congratulations” to Bill Barr in his new role of
minister of justice, or prosecutor general, or whatever.
When the Republicans in the Senate voted to allow Trump to get
away with abuse of power and obstruction, he did learn a lesson.
But it was the same lesson he’d learned before—that he can do
anything. There are no laws except the laws that Trump declares. No
justice except that which he permits. No republic remaining except
what he deigns to allow.
That may seem like an exaggeration. It’s not.