United States Attorney General Bill Barr reversed a Department of Justice (DOJ) sentencing recommendation for President Trump ally Roger Stone after he said the department went against his own recommendations.
Last week, four DOJ prosecutors recommended Roger Stone face between seven and nine years in prison after he was convicted on charges of lying to Congress and obstruction. The DOJ ordered those sentencing guidelines revised and the prosecutors handling Stone’s case resigned in protest. Barr was soon confronted with calls for his resignation, but in a Thursday interview with ABC News, he defended his position and said the prosecutors recommended the sentence in spite of a prior agreement that they would instead defer to the judge for sentencing.
Stone was one suspect swept up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into Russian election interference and accusations of collusion between Trump and the Russian government.
While the Mueller investigation concluded with no findings of illicit collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Stone was charged and convicted on seven counts, including one charge of obstruction, five counts of making false statements and one count of witness tampering, ABC reported.
Barr indicated he supported Stone’s conviction, but told prosecutors to “defer to the discretion of the judge” for sentencing. He said the prosecutors instead disobeyed that directive and filed a sentencing memo seeking the sentence of up to nine years.
“At the end of the day we deferred to [the judge], and that was what the approach was I thought we were going to take,” Barr said.
When news reports first appeared last week indicating prosecutors would seek a sentence of up to nine years, Barr said he thought it was just spin by the news media.
“When I first saw the news reports, I said ‘gee, the news is spinning this. This is not what we were going to do,'” Barr said. “I was very surprised.”
Barr said once he was able to confirm the media reports of a nine-year sentencing recommendation as accurate, he immediately told his staff to prepare to amend the sentencing request by the following morning.
The Attorney General said his efforts to correct the sentencing guidelines, which he felt were excessive for the Stone’s crimes, were complicated by a critical tweet from President Trump.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” Trump said, before calling the sentencing a “miscarriage of justice.”
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! https://t.co/rHPfYX6Vbv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
Barr said he was already working to revise the sentencing recommendation when he became aware of Trump’s tweet.
“I don’t look at tweets. I don’t read tweets, unless they are brought to my attention,” Barr said.
Barr criticized Trump’s tweets, which he described as disruptive to his work.
“At that point, I had made a decision that I thought was fair and reasonable in this particular case and once the tweet occurred the question is ‘well, now what am I going to do?,'” Barr said. “Do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet?”
Last week, Barr agreed to testify before Congress about the events surrounding the controversy. Barr gave his response even as politicians, commentators and former DOJ officials accused Barr of intervening in the fair administration of justice and have called on Barr to resign.
On Sunday, more than 1,100 former DOJ officials signed onto a letter accusing Barr of “doing the President’s personal bidding.”