Posts tagged with "Prosecutors"

In open letter, 1,000 DOJ alumni condemn abuse of power and call for AG Barr to step down

February 18, 2020

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General Bill Barr on Sunday, February 16, to step down after he intervened last week to reduce the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation for President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone.

They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress.

The statement was prompted by the attorney general’s decision to overrule his own prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations for Stone after the president complained they were too harsh. The full text of the letter, distributed by the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy, reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, are alumni of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) who have collectively served both Republican and Democratic administrations. Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.

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. The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

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. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law. 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. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.

Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.

We welcome Attorney General Barr’s belated acknowledgment that the DOJ’s law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics; that it is wrong for the President to interfere in specific enforcement matters, either to punish his opponents or to help his friends; and that the President’s public comments on DOJ matters have gravely damaged the Department’s credibility. But Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal 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. 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 nonpartisan, apolitical justice.

For these reasons, we support and commend the four career prosecutors who upheld their oaths and stood up for the Department’s independence by withdrawing from the Stone case and/or resigning from the Department. Our simple message to them is that we — and millions of other Americans — stand with them. And we call on every DOJ employee to follow their heroic example and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation. We likewise call on the other branches of government to protect from retaliation those employees who uphold their oaths in the face of unlawful directives. The rule of law and the survival of our Republic demand nothing less.

If you are a former DOJ employee and would like to add your name, click here. Protect Democracy will update this list daily with new signatories.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Justice Department said the case had not been discussed with anyone at the White House, but that Trump congratulated Barr on his decision did little to dispel the perception of political influence.

 

Research contact: @ProOurDemocracy

NBC News: Chances are slim that Supreme Court will halt handover of Trump’s tax returns

November 6, 2019

President Donald Trump will face strong pushback when he asks the Supreme Court to stop New York prosecutors from getting his tax returns, according to a report by NBC News.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump claimed that he would be willing to hand over his business’ tax returns, but that he was unable to do so, because they were then “under audit.” Now, the explanation for suppressing the filings has changed, but the basic message is the same: Hands off!

Trump’s lawyers have fought back, according to NBC News, arguing that because a sitting president cannot be indicted, he likewise cannot be subject to any steps in a criminal investigation (including evidence collection and documentation).

In rejecting that claim, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Monday that presidential immunity “does not bar the enforcement of a state grand jury subpoena directing a third party to produce nonprivileged material, even when the subject matter under investigation pertains to the president.”

Past Supreme Court rulings have upheld subpoenas directed at presidents, and this time the local prosecutors are seeking documents from the Trump Organization and Trump’s accountants—not directly from the president himself.

For those reasons, among others, NBC says,the Supreme Court might simply decline to hear the president’s appeal—which would leave the appeals court ruling intact and require the tax filings to be turned over.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating whether any state laws were broken in the payment of hush money to two women who claimed they had a sexual relationship with Trump—allegations that the president denied. The prosecutors also are looking into the claim by Trumps former personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen that Trump sometimes misstated his financial situation in order to pay lower taxes.

No court has ever ruled that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, but that has been the consistent position of the Justice Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The logic behind that position can be summarized simply: The president can’t run the country from jail.

The Supreme Court has never ruled that sitting presidents are beyond the reach of criminal investigations, though. In 1974, the court ruled that President Richard Nixon was required to comply with a subpoena directing him to turn over tape recordings of conversations in the White House. In 1975, President Gerald Ford complied with an order to give a deposition in the trial of a woman charged with trying to shoot him. In 1996, President Bill Clinton gave videotaped testimony in two criminal trials.

The Justice Department’s own position is consistent with these rulings, the network news outlet says. A 2000 memo from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that while sitting presidents cannot be prosecuted, they can still be investigated. Even if a president is immune from indictment, “a grand jury could continue to gather evidence throughout the period of immunity, even passing this task down to subsequently impaneled grand juries if necessary.”

A further problem for Trump is that Vance is not seeking any material involving official presidential duties, even though some of it overlaps with the time he’s been in office. For that reason, the president is not making any claim that the material sought by the grand jury is protected by executive privilege.

According to NBC News, the president’s lawyers’ best hope for getting the Supreme Court to take the case may be to argue two points. First, they will likely say that the 1974 ruling in the Nixon case doesn’t apply because that was a subpoena issued for material to be used in a criminal trial of former White House aides. A grand jury subpoena, they might say, is a lower level of need.

And second, they may say that Vance’s request is politically driven. His prosecutors admit that they lifted the wording of the subpoenas directly from subpoenas issued by two House committees controlled by Democrats. Trump’s refusal to make public his tax returns has been a consistent gripe of critics on the left.

At least four justices must vote to hear a case in order for the Supreme Court to grant review. And those four would be reluctant to plunge ahead unless they were reasonably confident they’d get a fifth vote when the case is decided. From the perspective of Trump, and presidential authority in general, it would be better to leave the Second Circuit ruling intact than to have the Supreme Court definitively rule that presidents must comply with such subpoenas.

The lawyers for both Trump and Vance have agreed to submit their court filings promptly. There’s no deadline for the justices to act, but both sides are hoping the court will say by mid-January whether it will take the case.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Trump: Contacts with Russia are just ‘peanut stuff’

December 18, 2018

The president admits that he sees “the elephant in the room”—that is, his campaign associates’ frequent contacts with Russian oligarchs, lawyers, and government officials. However, Donald Trump told Reuters last week during an interview, it was all just “peanut stuff,” despite his earlier blanket denials of any such interactions.

Indeed, during a February 2017 news conference covered by Breitbart, President Trump said, “Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia …. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”

Now—more than two years after the 2016 election and about 18 months into the Mueller investigation—court filings, public statements, and news reports indicate that at least 16 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign or transition.

It has been thoroughly demonstrated that the president and his associates reached out to Russia in many ways:  via face-to-face meetings; direct phone calls, text messages, emails, and video chats; and through a host of intermediaries.

However, as CNN reports, all of those who made the contacts—from former White House officials, to his personal lawyer, to his own son and daughter—uniformly deny participating in any “collusion” with the Russians.

The Reuters interview came a day ahead of the sentencing hearing in New York’s Southern District Court for Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen—who was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in hush-money cover-ups during the campaign, as well as for other felonies. What’s more, Cohen’s testimony to Robert Mueller about the president’s involvement with Russia represents a ticking time bomb that could explode within weeks, doing damage to everyone in Trump’s inner circle.

Trump, during the Reuters interview, criticized Cohen for cooperating with prosecutors and called for his former personal lawyer to receive a long sentence.

Research contact: @maeganvaz