BREAKING NEWS One dead after cyclist hit by car in Fort Wayne Full Story

Justice Department storm intensifies with new attacks on Barr's credibility

CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Preet Bharara, joins The Lead.

Posted: Feb 18, 2020 12:30 AM
Updated: Feb 18, 2020 12:30 AM

A credibility crisis rocking President Donald Trump's Justice Department significantly deepened over the long holiday weekend amid rising calls for Attorney General Bill Barr to quit over claims he has politicized of highly sensitive cases.

Latest developments suggest that the President's destruction of the invisible wall between the White House and the department and the obliging behavior of Barr may already mean that the question of possible political interference will haunt almost every large-scale Washington case for the rest of the current administration.

The drama escalated Monday as a letter demanding Barr's resignation by a bipartisan group of former Justice officials gathered its 2,000th signature. The officials are dismayed by the attorney general's decisions to tone down sentencing guidelines in the case of Roger Stone -- the President's long-time confidant and political trickster. The White House however said Monday that Trump still has full confidence in Barr.

That's perhaps not surprising since the furor follows a string of moves by the attorney general that have appeared designed to shield the President and have pulled the Department into the political fray, notwithstanding Barr's warning last week that Trump's tweets make it impossible for him to do his job.

The prosecutor statement and recent developments reflect how Trump's relentless pressure on the Justice Department has at the very least left the impression of politicization -- almost as damaging to confidence in the law's independence as actual interference.

Such an outcome is why many previous Presidents have sought to avoid the impression of interfering in the Justice Department. Trump by contrast has often given the impression that the law enforcement instruments of the US government should be pressed into service to help him.

Barr is under fire not just for the Stone case, but for fulfilling Trump's demands to probe the roots of the Russia investigation and for accepting so-called evidence on Joe Biden from the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani from the caper in Ukraine that triggered Trump's impeachment.

The White House is meanwhile taking new efforts to discredit the Mueller investigation, and to tarnish the department's top career leaders as partisans who sought to thwart his election.

Trump, along with his political media complex, is making a case that the problem is that the traditions and personnel of the department itself are rotten rather than the political pressure he and his acolytes are heaping upon the entire department.

"What we have been seeing again and again is that the Department of Justice has been politicized and the Attorney General Barr is trying to correct it, " Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Marc Short said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

New moves in the Stone case

The latest trigger for the Justice Department crisis -- the Stone case -- will be in the spotlight Tuesday when a federal judge holds a scheduling call in a case involving the President's friend that is riddled with claims of political interference.

Four prosecutors quit the case after the department reversed their demands for Stone to serve up to nine years for witness intimidation and lying to Congress after Trump complained about the sentencing guidelines in a late night tweet.

The magnitude of the worst credibility crisis at the Justice Department in decades is revealed by a statement drawn up by Republican and Democratic former department officials that has now attracted more than 2,000 supporters.

"Mr. Barr's actions in doing the President's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words," the letter said.

The officials called on Barr to resign, but since they had no confidence he would do so asked career officials "to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice."

Gene Rossi, one of the prosecutors who signed the document explained his reasoning to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

"Bill Barr has decimated the esprit de corps and the rule of law in the Department of Justice," Rossi said.

Rossi expressed concern about the Stone case, Barr's comments on FBI and CIA "spying" against Trump in the 2016 campaign, his misrepresenting of the Mueller report's recommendations and his decision to reexamine the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn as signs of troubling politicization.

He warned Barr was destroying the "fabric" of the Justice Department -- the undertaking to "to look at a case fairly and impartially and regardless of whether you are an 'R' or a 'D' or an independent -- if you have broken the law. No one is above the law including the president of the United States."

One former prosecutor, Joseph Moreno, however, explained that while he respected the signatories to the letter, he was not as far along as they were in his concerns over Barr, pointing out that Robert Mueller was allowed to complete his investigation.

"The attorney general has an extremely difficult position. And I think that statements he made like the one last week to ABC news where he said, 'Look, the tweets have to stop. You're making it impossible to do my job,' that's important," Moreno told CNN. "So I think while this change to the (Stone) sentencing recommendation to many people may seem like wait a minute, that's a bridge too far. I think in the big scheme of things, this issue is being blown out of proportion."

In another development, USA Today reported that a group of 1,000 federal judges has called an emergency meeting on Tuesday to address growing concerns about interventions by Trump and Justice Department officials in politically sensitive cases.

Philadelphia US District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, told the paper the group "could not wait" until its spring conference to discuss the crisis.

Trump backs Barr

Given Trump's sensitivity to outside criticism, especially from subordinates, some observers questioned whether Barr was treading on dangerous ground in his interview -- even though he has made repeated efforts to protect the President.

But a White House official told CNN's Jim Acosta on Monday that the President still had confidence in his attorney general, amid the increasing calls for him to resign.

The White House, as it often does, has used the controversy over Stone to stage a counter-offensive, as the President seeks to discredit all allegations against him in election year.

Short told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" Sunday that the President felt that the justice system was biased against him.

"The President's frustration is one that a lot of the Americans have which feels like the scales of justice are not balanced anymore," Short said. "And when someone like Roger Stone gets a prosecution that suggests a nine-year jail sentence which is four years above the sentencing guidelines ... they feel it is unusual."

Some observers did consider the Stone recommendation harsh. But Trump's tweet and the subsequent move by the Justice Department to overrule its own prosecutors left a clear impression of a conflict of interest and political interference in the case.

So did the department's revised filing -- which read more like a defense lawyer's submission than a prosecutorial document -- a factor that could play into Judge Amy Berman Jackson's deliberations on the appropriate sentence for Stone.

The President last week slammed the Stone case as "a miscarriage of justice" and added in a tweet: "This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them."

Yet Stone was convicted after a trial by a jury -- and was accused of attacking the rule of law on seven charges, including obstructing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

While the sentencing issues has allowed the President to fog the details of the case, the argument that Stone did not receive justice appears to be on thin ground.

Concerns about political interference in legal matters is growing around the country, CNN's Erica Orden and Kara Scannell reported Saturday.

In the past two weeks, the Justice Department has twice ordered US attorney's offices around the country to participate in what some of them perceive as politically charged actions, according to people familiar with the matter, including on Barr's effort to crack down on "sanctuary cities."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 590211

Reported Deaths: 9310
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion815581297
Lake44306666
Allen31919541
Hamilton28371304
St. Joseph26766371
Elkhart24098341
Vanderburgh18643213
Tippecanoe17422121
Johnson14496284
Porter14399160
Hendricks13870241
Madison10561212
Vigo10483171
Clark10240130
Monroe9076108
Delaware8836132
LaPorte8771155
Howard7897138
Kosciusko787277
Warrick643890
Hancock638797
Bartholomew626694
Floyd6150105
Wayne5933157
Grant5818110
Dubois544372
Boone534367
Morgan516291
Marshall494184
Henry493664
Cass471760
Noble460557
Dearborn458444
Jackson414745
Shelby402179
Lawrence380575
Clinton364539
Gibson356556
DeKalb337363
Montgomery334851
Harrison328542
Knox327839
Miami309843
Steuben306340
Adams295235
Whitley294125
Wabash293045
Ripley292345
Putnam284847
Huntington283557
Jasper282433
White267538
Daviess261672
Jefferson250738
Fayette242348
Decatur242182
Greene233360
Posey232326
Wells229447
LaGrange224161
Clay217932
Scott216937
Randolph208340
Jennings192535
Sullivan189031
Spencer181917
Fountain179725
Washington177118
Starke171341
Jay162821
Owen159537
Fulton159229
Carroll152115
Orange151433
Rush149918
Perry147227
Vermillion144933
Franklin143433
Parke12908
Tipton128232
Pike113625
Blackford107522
Pulaski95237
Newton89421
Brown85530
Benton84310
Crawford7579
Martin70013
Warren6587
Switzerland6205
Union6113
Ohio4677
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 826754

Reported Deaths: 10200
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin97493705
Cuyahoga821781012
Hamilton61350439
Montgomery41700399
Summit33399726
Lucas30111597
Butler29721228
Stark24811400
Warren18917139
Lorain18086212
Mahoning16758335
Lake15365135
Clermont15160104
Delaware1382177
Licking12679132
Trumbull12401302
Fairfield1218480
Greene11631133
Medina11128165
Clark10608264
Wood9964154
Allen9511126
Portage8867105
Miami886573
Richland8790116
Marion7319113
Tuscarawas7142174
Columbiana7085124
Pickaway702850
Wayne6781164
Muskingum671242
Erie5886118
Hancock537890
Ross530287
Scioto519662
Geauga483555
Darke457589
Ashtabula439068
Lawrence432651
Union430628
Mercer424287
Sandusky421862
Seneca413555
Auglaize412759
Huron410338
Shelby410221
Jefferson403366
Belmont395640
Washington372040
Putnam364672
Athens36369
Madison339329
Knox336522
Ashland331738
Fulton325943
Defiance319278
Crawford313268
Preble311534
Brown296619
Logan292729
Ottawa282134
Clinton279043
Williams270166
Highland262418
Jackson256943
Guernsey241725
Champaign240927
Fayette225529
Morrow22294
Perry221318
Holmes218662
Henry210247
Hardin204133
Coshocton197420
Van Wert196644
Gallia190926
Wyandot190549
Adams165615
Pike164116
Hocking163423
Carroll149516
Paulding139021
Noble117840
Meigs103221
Monroe95629
Harrison8568
Morgan79128
Vinton67113
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 15°
Angola
Cloudy
25° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 17°
Huntington
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 15°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 15°
Lima
Cloudy
31° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 21°
Evening Light Snow Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events