This is something we have never witnessed in our history. The federal judiciary is concerned about “Coverup-General Barr” and Donald Trump intervening in cases to aid the president’s associates or to punish his political enemies.
A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday.
Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.
“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe told USA TODAY. “We’ll talk all of this through.”
Rufe, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors’ initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them.
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Rufe said the judges’ association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but she voiced strong support for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson [who is presiding over the Roger Stone case.]
“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” Rufe said, praising Jackson’s reputation. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.”
The unusual concern voiced by the judges’ group comes in the wake of an equally unusual protest. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have called on Barr to resign since Sunday, claiming his handling of the Stone case “openly and repeatedly flouted” the principle of equal justice.
“Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case,” the letter reads.
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Tuesday, the federal judges are set to convene via a conference call involving 15 to 20 officers and members of the association’s executive committee, Rufe said.
Founded in 1982, the 1,100-member association supports “a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary,” according to its website.
Rufe said the group has not decided how it will report the result of its meeting, if at all. “We just could not wait until April to discuss matters of this importance,” she said.
After Trump took Jackson to task on Twitter last week, another jurist – District of Columbia Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell – appeared to rally to Jackson’s side.
“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said in a written statement. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.”
An on-the-record telephone conference call is also scheduled for February 18, 2020 at 11:00 AM in Courtroom 3 before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Roger Stone Judge Schedules Conference Call. Will She Put DOJ on the Spot?
The conference call was scheduled on Sunday. The reason behind this is unclear from the records, but um, there’s been a lot of activity in the case as of late. Prosecutors originally recommended seven-to-nine years in prison for Stone, a 67-year-old Trump campaign surrogate convicted of witness tampering, lying to Congress, and obstruction. President Donald Trump complained about it on Twitter. The Department of Justice, as an institution, walked back the sentencing recommendation. The prosecutors on the case withdrew.
It remains to be seen what U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wants to discuss. Preet Bhahara, a former U.S. Attorney who served in the Obama administration and was famously fired by Trump, suggested that the court will look into why the prosecutors left.
Judge Jackson does not have to approve counsels’ notice of withdrawal from the case, and given the publicly available information about the circumstances of their withdrawal, she is entitled to inquire into their reasons. Judge Jackson could issue an order to show cause to call DOJ attorneys, including the attorney general, into her court to testify about overruling the line prosecutors on sentencing recommendations for possible sanctions and referral to the bar association for disciplinary proceedings.
Judge Jackson also has discretion in sentencing Roger Stone. She does not have to accept the substitute sentencing recommendations.