Attorney General William Barr has assigned a team of prosecutors to review “politically sensitive” cases pursued by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington—including that of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the New York Times reported Friday.
According to the Times, Barr assembled a team of prosecutors from outside the area, including one from St. Louis, who is overseeing the Flynn case review. The U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. handles federal crimes in Washington, meaning it inherited many cases first pursued by special counsel Robert Mueller. It has also been recently criticized by President Donald Trump for decisions in the Roger Stone and Andrew McCabe cases.
In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to the FBI about his communications with the former Russian ambassador. Flynn was first investigated by the special counsel’s office, and he cooperated in exchange for leniency. After the special counsel’s office wrapped up its investigation, career prosecutors in the D.C. office took over Flynn’s case. Flynn has recently asked to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming the government had concealed evidence and forced him to admit to crimes he did not commit.
A judge dismissed Flynn’s complaints of prosecutorial misconduct as unfounded. Barr’s team will revisit those complaints, according to USA Today.
It’s unusual to bring in outside attorneys to review the work of career prosecutors. The news seemed to smack of political interference in judicial affairs—the second such case to arise this week.
On Monday, federal prosecutors recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, in accordance with sentencing guidelines. Stone, a Trump associate who declined to cooperate with the Mueller investigation, was found guilty of witness intimidation and making false statements. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the recommendation was a “horrible and very unfair situation.” He added: “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Later that day, the Justice Department overruled the prosecutors’ decision. The updated recommendation announced that that amount of prison time “would not be appropriate.” The four career prosecutors involved in the initial filing quit the case, and one left the DOJ entirely.
Barr immediately came under fire and was accused of carrying out the president’s political will at the expense of the Justice Department’s integrity. At the same time, Jessie Liu, the former head of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, resigned from the Trump administration after Trump withdrew her nomination for a Senate-approved position in the Treasury Department. Trump was reportedly unhappy with Liu because of her role in some politically prominent cases, such as Stone’s and McCabe’s.
Barr has disputed that these decisions were politically motivated. Barr has said that he had made the decision to lessen Stone’s sentencing recommendation before Trump tweeted. But he did complain in an interview with ABC News that the president’s actions had hurt the department’s image. “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said. He added that such statements from Trump “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Trump, however, continued to tweet about Justice Department matters. He complained that Paul Manafort suffered worse punishments than Al Capone, said that Hillary Clinton should have been jailed instead, demanded to know why Tony Podesta had not been punished, suggested that Flynn and Stone should both receive full pardons for prosecutorial misconduct, and thanked Barr for “taking charge” of Stone’s case, which was “out of control” and “perhaps should not have been brought.”
CNN also reported on Friday that Trump was “angered” that federal prosecutors in D.C. had decided not to file criminal charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. A DOJ inspector general report found that McCabe had given inaccurate statements to FBI investigators about his handling of media requests about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation during the run-up to the 2016 election. Trump has complained many times about what he sees as gentle treatment for McCabe when his own political allies have been punished for their crimes.