Four prosecutors in the office quit the Stone case this month after Barr and other Justice Department leaders pushed for a softer prison recommendation for Stone, who was sentenced Feb. 20 to three years and four months prison for lying to Congress and obstruction.
Trump has publicly attacked the prosecutors, judge and even jurors in Stone’s November trial as biased. In the ensuing controversy, former Justice Department officials have sharply criticized the attorney general, and more than 2,600 former employees have urged Barr to resign.
“Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words,” the Justice Department alumni wrote in a separate letter Feb. 16. “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 most recent letter was drafted independently by assistants to former U.S. attorneys Earl J. Silbert — an appointee of Richard Nixon who oversaw the initial stages of the investigation of the Watergate break-in that led to Nixon’s resignation — and Thomas A. Flannery, another Nixon appointee whom Silbert succeeded when Flannery was named a federal judge by the president.
It took a different tack, calling for Shea — formerly counselor to Barr — not to step down but to create some distance between himself and the attorney general, who tapped Shea to take over Feb. 3 from then-U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu, a Trump appointee whom the president dumped after being angered at her handling of cases. Cases that drew the president’s ire include that of Stone; former national security adviser Michael Flynn, charged in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election; and former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe, whom the Justice Department decided this month not to charge with lying to investigators about a media disclosure.
“In light of recent events, we strongly urge you, by your words and actions, to affirm and demonstrate that you will live by the bedrock principles of the American system of justice: ‘no one is above the law’ and that ‘Justice is blind,’ ” the three-page letter stated.
The letter, which former prosecutor Daniel Toomey said he helped draft and delivered Wednesday, asked Shea to “affirmatively resist any and all political interference or influence” by Trump, Barr or any other public official. The letter also asked Shea to “make clear that the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia will not be simply a tool used to favor the politically connected and punish the perceived enemies of the Administration.”
Other prominent signatories include Charles R. Work, a Republican presidential appointee and former partner in charge of McDermott Will & Emery’s Washington office from 1983 to 1997; Richard Shine, a former branch chief in the department’s fraud section who served under six presidents; and Robert Ogren, former fraud section chief.
Spokeswomen for the Justice Department and Shea’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Former acting attorney general Stuart M. Gerson — an office alumnus who served under Barr when Barr was attorney general for President George H.W. Bush — did not join the letter but stated in an opinion article Wednesday that Shea’s appointment and “punitive appointments” of outside attorneys to oversee sensitive cases “has caused a strongly negative reaction among the career prosecutors there [in Washington] and elsewhere.” The Justice Department also has asked outside prosecutors to review the office’s handling of the Flynn case.
Gerson, a Republican adviser to both Bush and his son, President George W. Bush, wrote in the Just Security blog, “Many citizens both inside and outside the Department of Justice are asking whether DOJ stands for the rule of law or for the rule of an authoritarian administration. . . . There is no room for error or even the perception of it being otherwise [than the former].”