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Roger Stone Case Raises The Question Should Attorney General Barr Resign?

Feb 20, 2020
Originally published on February 20, 2020 7:09 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative who famously has a tattoo of Richard Nixon's face on his back, will learn today how long he is going to jail. The question of his sentencing set off a controversy that has led to calls for Attorney General William Barr to resign. Stone worked for President Trump. And after the president tweeted, calling for a lenient sentence for Stone, the Justice Department overruled its own recommendation and called for a more lenient sentence. And we should say the department says that presidential pressure did not weigh in its decision here.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who was a Republican witness in the House impeachment proceedings, defended Barr in an op-ed and joins us this morning. Professor, welcome.

JONATHAN TURLEY: Thank you very much.

GREENE: So the attorney general himself said in a television interview that he cannot do his job with presidential interference. If that is true, why keep doing this job?

TURLEY: (Laughter) I think that, quite frankly, Bill Barr has shared DNA with that building, you know. He really was formed as a young lawyer in that building. Many members of his family have worked for or currently work for the Justice Department. He has a very close association with it. That's why he took this job. He thinks that it has suffered a great deal of damage. And when he confronted the president publicly on his tweets, he did the right thing. Those tweets were reckless and irresponsible. And they really do make it...

GREENE: But they're still going. I mean, they're still going. The president tweeted five hours ago about the Roger Stone case. So if he doesn't think he can do this with the - I mean, do you think the tweets are going to stop?

TURLEY: No. And I don't think that necessarily Bill Barr believes that they will stop. He's trying to get them to stop. That's clear. This is a unique situation where a Cabinet member actually confronted the president and has remained in office. How long that will last is a very good question.

GREENE: You think he might resign?

TURLEY: Well, I think that's a real possibility if he can't do his job. You know, Bill Barr isn't someone who's very sensitive to the optics of the moment or to criticism, but he's very sensitive about what he does at the Department of Justice. And if he reaches a point where the president is inimicable to his ability to carry out his functions, he'll resign.

GREENE: So I want to be clear here. I mean, you've written an op-ed basically saying that you think Bill Barr - you know, you like him. You respect him. You say that he handled himself well through the Stone case, although there are people who want to hold him accountable. But you see a real possibility that he might just have to leave, given the circumstances.

TURLEY: I think so. But I think part of the problem with the coverage is it sort of follows Kafka's rule in the penal settlement that, you know, the guiding principle of guilt is never to be doubted. You know, you had all of these lawyers who went after Barr on legal ethical issues without waiting for the facts to be established. Those facts seem to contradict the earlier narrative.

The decision appears to have been made before the president's tweets. It does not appear that the president was consulted or spoke with Barr or his staff. But more importantly, Barr was right. That original sentencing memorandum was absurdly high. And it wasn't just Barr. There were other people at the criminal division who said that this is simply wrong. It's way too high. The base for this offense is a little over a year.

GREENE: But isn't it rare to come out with a recommendation publicly and then to actually go back on it? I mean, that seemed - that is what is so rare here. Not rare, necessarily...

TURLEY: Yeah.

GREENE: ...For an attorney general to be involved.

TURLEY: It's also rare for local prosecutors to contradict what was believed to be the position of Main Justice. The U.S. Attorneys' Manual says that Main Justice is allowed to establish these types of principles. And these local prosecutors went beyond it. And it was corrected, in my view. He was most certainly correct on the merits.

GREENE: All right. Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University, speaking to us about the attorney general this morning. Thanks so much, Professor. We always appreciate it.

TURLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.