United States Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said he believes “the pillars of the U.S. Justice Department are eroding rapidly” from those putting President Donald Trump’s personal interests ahead of the country’s.
Jones made those and other comments during a call with Alabama media members Thursday afternoon in response to Trump continuing to publicly comment on the DOJ’s handling of a criminal case that could land one of his personal friends in federal prison for years.
Roger Stone has been involved in Republican politics for years but rose to national prominence after Trump’s election in 2016.
A senior adviser to the campaign, he was one of the last Trump associates indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into suspected Russian interference in the election.
Last November, Stone was convicted of lying to congress and witness tampering related to his efforts to obtain Democratic campaign emails through WikiLeaks — emails Mueller’s report indicated had obtained and turned over to the website by Russian-backed computer hackers.
This week, federal prosecutors recommended Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. While the ultimate decision will be up to the judge presiding over the case, Trump supporters and Trump himself were quick to publicly criticize the sentence as long, harsh and possibly politically motivated.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Trump’s Tweets raised concerns that the White House was putting public pressure on the DOJ, which is supposed to operate independently, to go easy on his friend. The President denied that he was attempting to interfere in the case, but only a few hours later, the DOJ was already reversing course.
By the end of the day Tuesday, four of the prosecutors overseeing Stone’s case withdrew and one resigned after more senior DOJ officials reportedly indicated they would be reducing Stone’s recommended sentence. After reports of the shake up started to surface, Trump “congratulated” his Attorney General.
“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” he wrote before going on to criticize Mueller’s investigation as well as the federal judge overseeing Stone’s case in Washington D.C.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is scheduled to hand down Stone’s sentence Feb. 20.
Asked about the situation Thursday, Jones — a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama — initially said he didn’t know what to think because he’s never seen anything like this. He then said he’s been ‘appalled’ by what he’s seen out of the White House over the past few days.
“The President of the United States should not be getting engaged in any criminal case, especially one that involves his personal friends and people that were and still are close to him,” Jones said. “I think we’re seeing the pillars of the DOJ eroding rapidly. It seems to me that most of what we’re seeing is people protecting the president and doing his bidding instead of serving the American people.”
He did clarify that his concern is with the leadership of the DOJ, not the “rank and file” employees that have “worked across multiple administrations.” He also said that it was disappointing to see seasoned prosecutors leaving, instead of “sticking it out and bringing these things to [our] attention.”
While Jones is Alabama’s only Democrat in a statewide office, the criticism of Trump’s commentary on Stone’s active criminal case has been at least somewhat bipartisan.
Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a strong Trump supporter and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he didn’t think the president “commenting on [DOJ] cases” was “appropriate.” However, he stopped short of many Democrats who’ve argued for Barr to be questioned by Congress.
In an even rarer development, the AG himself seemed to express dismay about the position Trump has put him in. During an interview with ABC News, Barr said “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” adding that such messages “make it impossible to do my job.”
In addition to Stone’s case, Jones also criticized some of Trump’s actions since he was acquitted in the Senate on two charges of impeachment on Feb. 5. Specifically, Jones expressed concerns about the president’s efforts to remove or recall officials who testified as part of those proceedings such as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
Jones said he was concerned to see open “retribution against military heroes” like Vindman, who he said was “essentially Perp Walked out of the White House for responding to a subpoena and telling the truth.”
As Lagniappe has reported, Jones voted to convict Trump on the two articles of impeachment against him — a decision that drew criticism from many Alabama Republicans. Still, Jones, who will be defending his Senate seat against a Republican challenger in November, said the response to his impeachment vote has been “primarily favorable” from what he’s seen.
“I know there are people who disagreed with it, but I’ve also talked to people who disagreed with the actual vote but saw the effort I put into it and know I voted my conscience,” Jones said. “I think that’s what people asked from a U.S. senator, and overall, I feel very good about the place I am on that.”
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