First he went after the prosecutors who recommended a multiyear sentence for his friend Roger Stone. Then President Trump turned his Twitter ire to the “witch hunt disgrace” of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which led to Stone’s indictment. But perhaps most surprising was Trump’s decision to target U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — who will determine Stone’s fate when he appears in her courtroom next Thursday. . . .
“Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” the president wrote, sharing a tweet that named Jackson as the judge who sentenced Manafort.

President Trump’s attempt to threaten and bully a federal judge may well backfire, at least we should hope it does. The judicial branch is the last brake on a spiteful president determined to pursue political enemies and destroy the Justice Department’s reputation.

None of this would be possible without the stomach-turning subservience of Attorney General William P. Barr, who will not stand up for his employees let alone for the rule of law. Trump shamelessly celebrated Barr’s willingness to knuckle under to his demands:

The attorney general already put out a welcome mat to obtain dirt on Trump’s rivals, another egregious abuse of executive branch powers.

The House Judiciary Committee has confirmed in a letter that Barr has agreed to testify, but not until March 31. There is no agreement as to whether he will actually answer questions about his political handiwork. The letter reminds Barr that the committee has previously warned him and his predecessors about “the misuse of our criminal justice system for political purposes.”

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “The Attorney General’s highly unusual and transparently political intervention in the thoughtful sentencing recommendations of the line attorneys in [Trump confidant Roger] Stone’s case was outrageous and understandably led to the resignations of the prosecutors who had been assigned the case.” He observes, “They should be commended for risking their careers to stand up for principle. Hopefully the federal court doing the sentencing will pay as little attention to what Barr recommends as his political intrusion into the matter warrants.”

Tribe also warns that this is just a preview of what is to come. “It seems fairly likely in any event that this is but the first step to a presidential abuse of the pardon power to reward Roger Stone for his loyalty to the president rather than to the law the day after Trump is either reelected or turned out of office this November, during the 77-day period in which he will be at his most lawless and dangerous, whatever the election’s outcome," he cautions.

Former federal prosecutors Mimi Rocah and Glenn Kirschner share Tribe’s concern. “So, let’s be clear about what this controversy is not about: This isn’t about what Stone’s actual sentence should be or whether the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are inappropriate. . . . If Trump and his allies want to have a discussion about sentencing reform — for all defendants, not just ones the president wants to protect — we can do that in a separate conversation.” What is very much at risk is the independence of career prosecutors and the influence of a vengeful president. Rocah and Kirschner write: “When both the U.S. Probation Office and the Pretrial Services Office and the prosecutors who know the case best agree that a seven- to nine-year sentence is appropriate, the fact that a presidential tweet can result in a reduced sentence is a sign that the criminal justice system is being corroded from the inside out. It is a move that smacks of cronyism, favoritism and exploitation.”

The question then becomes what to do about this situation. The House must use all of its powers — including the subpoena power and the power of the purse — to defend, if need be, part of Barr’s department or to specify ways in which funds may not be used. Given their track record, we have no expectation that this will work to rein in either Barr or Trump.

State bar associations could take action against Barr and his henchmen, but that is a lengthy process and would not necessarily interfere with Barr’s duties. (One does not need to be an attorney to be attorney general.)

At some point, the House may be obligated to open impeachment hearings against Barr (or even Trump, again, as George Conway points out in The Post). When an attorney general allows himself and his office to be turned into a weapon to enact retribution against a president’s enemies and protect his cronies, he has violated his oath of office, imperiled the reputation of every lawyer working there and done huge damage to the rule of law. Former prosecutor Joyce White Vance tells me, “I always like to see evidence developed through an investigation before reaching a conclusion about whether [impeachment] is appropriate. There’s certainly ample predicate to support an investigation here.”

The Senate would no doubt ride to Barr’s rescue as it did with Trump during his impeachment trial, but Barr might be shamed by the singular indignity of impeachment, the first attorney general in U.S. history to have that black mark on his record. It would seal his reputation as the worst attorney general ever, a legacy he has richly earned.

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