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Trump Wants to Control the Judicial System, But Judges Are Fighting Back

Judges and former DOJ employees are criticizing Trump in ways that may prove hard for Senate Republicans to ignore.

Roger Stone, former adviser to President Trump, departs federal court on November 14, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump is feeling frisky these days. Now that his willing accomplices in the Senate have acquitted him of the deadly serious charges that were levied against him, Trump has unleashed a vengeance tour that widens in scope by the day. Over the last few days, however, the targets of his ire came together to push back against this rogue, untethered administration.

Trump began indulging his need for revenge with a vicious State Department purge that chopped down both national security adviser Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, two key witnesses in the impeachment investigation.

Col. Vindman’s twin brother was also summarily removed from the National Security Council by Trump. Yevgeny Vindman, a decorated lieutenant colonel in the Army like his brother, has been punished for the offense of sharing the last name of someone on Trump’s enemies list. The implications of this are chilling.

Not long after the State Department purge, Trump barged into the sentencing process for Roger Stone, who was convicted in November of lying to investigators and obstruction of witnesses, all of which he appears to have done in the name of Donald Trump. Prosecutors on the case recommended Stone be given a sentence of seven to nine years, which hewed precisely to federal sentencing guidelines. Trump came down the Twitter mountain to denounce both the sentence and the judge on the case.

Attorney General William Barr, hearing Pavlov’s presidential bell ring, immediately intervened to lessen Stone’s sentence to a still-indeterminate length. In response, four career federal prosecutors withdrew from the case and one — an attorney in the public integrity section of the Justice Department — resigned altogether.

Trump’s attacks on Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who has been presiding over the Stone case, were both personal and factually incorrect. Attorney General Barr was motivated to scold Trump for his actions, stating that the ceaseless Twitter outbursts directed at the Justice Department and the judiciary make it “impossible” for him to do his job.

The mainstream press, properly cynical at long last, mostly scoffed at the notion that Barr’s comments represented a noteworthy break with Trump. Instead, Barr’s statements were properly interpreted as the attorney general telling the president his tweets were making the ongoing cover-up more difficult to manage. Trump responded by proclaiming he has “the legal right” to intervene in criminal cases, a statement that is wrong and dangerous in equal measure.

Claims by Republican senators like Susan Collins that Trump had learned “a pretty big lesson” from the impeachment trial have been proven laughable. Even now, there is no pushback against this president from that compromised chamber. “Republicans who control the Senate resigned themselves this week to the reality that they are unable to check or even influence Trump,” reported The Washington Post last Tuesday. Again, a statement that is wrong and dangerous in equal measure.

Others, however, are stepping into the void of leadership created by Mitch McConnell and his senatorial cohort of Trump doormats.

On Sunday, an open letter was published carrying the signatures of more than 2,000 former Justice Department employees from prior Republican and Democratic administrations. The letter demands the immediate resignation of William Barr for his interference in the Stone case at the behest of Trump.

As former DOJ officials, we each proudly took an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans. This obligation flows directly from the Constitution, and it is embedded in countless rules and laws governing the conduct of DOJ lawyers…. All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes…. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.

This bipartisan condemnation of Trump and his pet attorney general was followed by an announcement that the Federal Judges Association, which represents more than 1,000 judges across the nation, has called an emergency meeting to discuss and confront Trump and Barr’s interference in the Stone case, Trump’s verbal assault on Judge Jackson, and the pair’s assault upon the judiciary itself. Such a meeting has never before occurred. U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, who heads the association, was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush.

Neither the Federal Judges Association nor the letter from former Justice employees carry any legal weight, but they represent a coalescing of dissident voices from within the legal system that may prove difficult for senate Republicans to ignore.

The fact that those senators have shrugged at everything else Trump has done would seem to indicate they will simply do the same in this instance, but Election Day looms on the horizon, and a number of them run the risk of sudden unemployment come November if they maintain their seamless fealty to the brigand in the White House.

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