More than 1,100 former justice department officials have called on US attorney-general William Barr to resign, accusing him of doing Donald Trump’s “bidding” by intervening to reduce the proposed sentence of the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone.
The signatories to the open letter, which condemned Mr Barr for allegedly allowing political appointees to overrule career prosecutors, also urged current justice department employees to report unethical behaviour to the inspector-general or Congress.
The former lawyers, who have collectively served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, said that while they welcomed Mr Barr’s “belated acknowledgment” that law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics, his “actions in doing the president’s bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words”.
“Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr Barr to resign,” the former officials wrote. “But because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department’s career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend non-partisan, apolitical justice.”
The letter comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the premier US law enforcement agency, after four career prosecutors quit Mr Stone’s case after the justice department withdrew their sentencing recommendation following a tweet from Mr Trump.
On Monday, those prosecutors — Jonathan Kravis, Michael Marando, Adam Jed and Aaron Zelinsky — recommended the 67-year-old Republican operative serve seven to nine years in prison for his conviction last year on charges of lying to Congress about contacts with WikiLeaks ahead of the 2016 election and for witness tampering.
The prosecutors wrote that prison time would “serve as a powerful reminder that our democratic processes can function only if those called to testify tell the truth, and that serious consequences lie in store for those who do not”.
Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, Mr Trump expressed his disapproval on Twitter. “This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” he tweeted. Later that morning the justice department said it would withdraw the seven to nine-year recommendation, insisting it had made the decision independently of the president and before his tweet.
In their letter, former justice department lawyers argued that political interference in criminal prosecutions was damaging to the department’s “sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law”.
“A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the president,” the former officials added.
“Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”
Mr Trump has attacked the prosecutors on Twitter, along with the judge who is overseeing Mr Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, leading Mr Barr to take the unusual step of publicly rebuking the president.
“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” said Mr Barr of Mr Trump on Thursday, insisting that he had made his decision on the sentencing recommendation of Mr Stone independently of the White House.
Mr Trump has in the past signalled that he is open to a presidential pardon for Mr Stone, as well as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, his other former aides convicted following the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.