A lot happened Tuesday at the Justice Department.
In a span of about 12 hours, the Justice Department revised downward the sentencing guidelines issued late Monday for Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to President Trump who was convicted of felonies committed to help Trump; the four career federal prosecutors on the case all abruptly withdrew and one of them quit the Justice Department; and Trump quietly rescinded a Treasury Department nomination for Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney in Washington who oversaw the Stone case and others of interest to Trump, until she was suddenly pulled from her job in late January and replaced by a longtime close adviser to Attorney General William Barr, Timothy Shea.
And these were just some of Barr's several recent moves "to take control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump," NBC News reports, citing multiple people familiar with the matter. Senior DOJ officials also intervened to reduce the suggested sentence for former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, NBC News reports, and The Washington Post and The New York Times confirmed that Barr's office and Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen's office ordered the Stone sentencing revisions. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow added some context.
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The Justice Department and Trump both denied that the switch to recommend leniency for Stone was in response to Trump's early Tuesday tweet demanding leniency or any direct order. But former Justice Department officials called the move unprecedented and frankly alarming. "There is no way you can come away from this with anything other than an impression that Justice is taking its orders from the president and pandering to the president," former DOJ official Mary McCord told the Post. Maddow described it as at least a constitutional near-crisis, and Nicolle Wallace said Trump is teeing up pardons for Stone, Flynn, and everyone else convicted due to Special Counsel Robert Muller's investigation.
Journalist Marcy Wheeler suggested that "the brazenness of this fight may be a reflection of the damaging information Roger Stone may have about Trump’s own conduct," for reasons she explains, and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called the official Justice Department rationale laughable and said in some ways, a pardon would be preferable to meddling in the sentencing guidelines because instead of just sullying his own name, Trump is besmirching the Justice Department. Peter Weber
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