WASHINGTON - More than 1,100 former U.S. prosecutors and Justice Department officials called Sunday for the resignation of Attorney General William Barr after he intervened to shorten the political corruption sentence for Roger Stone, a long-time confidant of President Donald Trump.
Four career federal prosecutors, part of the Justice Department headed by Barr, had recommended that Stone be sentenced this week to up to nine years in prison after his November conviction on seven charges, including lying to Congress and witness tampering, linked to the long investigation of the 2016 election won by Trump.
But Barr and top Justice Department officials expressed shock by the length of the suggested sentence and Trump called it a "miscarriage of justice." Barr intervened and the Justice Department then said the initial recommendation "could be considered excessive and unwarranted," but left it up to the judge hearing the case to decide what the appropriate sentence should be at Thursday's hearing.
The former prosecutors and Justice Department officials, who came from across the U.S. political spectrum, said in an open letter Sunday, "Each of us strongly condemns President Trump's and Attorney General Barr's interference in the fair administration of justice."
Barr told ABC News he did not talk to Trump about the Stone sentence, but the protesting former prosecutors said, “Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the president’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those 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.”
Marc Short, the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, defended Barr in a CNN interview Sunday, saying that Barr "said the president has not called him directly to do these things."
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment about the former prosecutors' letter.
After Barr intervened in the case, Trump praised him on Twitter, saying, "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 four prosecutors who had made the sentencing recommendation quit the case after Barr stepped in.
In the ABC interview, Barr said that Trump's frequent tweets about politically charged criminal investigations make it impossible for him to do his job, although he said that the president has never directly intervened with him in any case.
"I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me," Barr said.
Trump, hours later, said he had never asked Barr to "do anything in a criminal case." Trump asserted that as president he had "the legal right to do so" but had "so far chosen not to!"
“The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2020
Barr's intervention in the case of Stone, a longtime political trickster on behalf of Republican political figures, was one of three politically tinged cases he acted on last week in which Trump has taken a public interest with frequent tweets.
Barr ordered a federal prosecutor outside of the main Justice headquarters in Washington to review the origins and evidence in the case against Michael Flynn, who for a brief period served as Trump's first national security adviser at the outset of his presidency in 2017. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with Russia's then ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump took office, but has never been sentenced and recently sought to withdraw his guilty plea.
Trump has called the case brought against Flynn "very unfair."
Meantime, Barr dropped a criminal investigation against Andrew McCabe, a former acting FBI director, whom Trump has often attacked, claiming he was part of a "deep state" of government officials determined to undermine his presidency. McCabe had been accused of lying to government officials about his role in a leak about a government investigation to the Wall Street Journal.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway declined, in an interview on the Fox News Sunday show, to say what Trump's reaction was to ending the McCabe investigation.
"He'll still be a serial liar whether he's prosecuted or not," Conway said of McCabe.
"This is small potatoes," she said, declining to further discuss the outcome of the case.