Saturday, February 22, 2020

GateHouse: Interference in the failed administration of justice

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
February 21, 2020
Last week, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a sentence memorandum in the case of longtime President Donald Trump associate Roger Stone. The recommendation, based on the federal sentencing guidelines, proposed a sentence of between seven and nine years in prison.
Within hours of the recommendation, President Trump took to Twitter suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that the Department of Justice, ”(C)annot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Although, Attorney General William Barr denied the president asked him to do anything, the Department of Justice swiftly intervened. All four career prosecutors handling the case withdrew and one resigned. New prosecutors submitted a second, more lenient, recommendation.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to three years and four months in federal prison.
Barr’s capitulation to Trump’s, not so veiled, demand has spurred talk of the demise of the rule of law.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accused the Attorney General of having “deeply damaged the rule of law.” Professor Joyce White Vance wrote in Time, “If Barr truly believes in the rule of law, this is his moment.”
The Atlantic suggested, “Indeed, given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American.” In fact, none other than William Barr himself said in 2019, “Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or Department of Justice as an institution, than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law.”
Although the term “rule of law” has been tossed around a lot lately, especially in these turbulent political times, what exactly is the rule of law that has so many, so concerned?
The rule of law is defined as: The restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.
At its core, the rule of law means that the law applies to everyone equally - no one is above the law. The rule of law is embodied in the maxim “a government of law, not of men,” a phrase President John Adams included in the Massachusetts state constitution 240 years ago.
Some will argue President Trump has every right to intervene with the Department of Justice. The attorney general is appointed by the president and serves at the pleasure of the president. The Department of Justice is an executive branch office. In response to Barr saying the president asked for nothing, Trump tweeted, “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so.”
There is a difference between being able to do something, and it being the right thing to do. One principle of the rule of law is the equal enforcement of laws.
If the President of the United States calls for, and gets, favorable treatment for his friend Roger Stone; while demanding a foreign country investigate his political rival Joe Biden; or continually call for his former political opponent Hillary Clinton to be “locked-up” - the trust and confidence in our system of laws begins to erode.
That is why nearly 2,500 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials, from across the political spectrum, have called on the attorney general to step down. In an open letter that began circulating after Barr intervened in the Stone case, the signatories adopted the following language, “Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.”
It is easy in politics to overstate the urgency of a given situation. This is not one of those situations. There is more at stake than meets the eye. CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin warns in The New Yorker of “creeping authoritarianism.”
We are living at a time where it appears that the president doesn’t merely want to flex his muscles, he wants to destroy American institutions, by breeding distrust, creating doubt and eroding confidence in one of our most cherished values - the rule of law.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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