Barr intervened last week to overrule career prosecutors’ tough seven- to nine-year sentencing recommendation for Trump ally Roger Stone — shortly after Trump tweeted in opposition to the recommended sentence. That prompted the four prosecutors on the case to withdraw. Then came a more watered-down recommendation, which was signed by the prosecutor now leading the charge for the Justice Department, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb.
But at Stone’s sentencing hearing on Thursday, Crabb sounded a very different tone. He repeatedly appeared to push the recommendation in the direction of the initial prosecutors’ harsher one, arguing for enhancements that the more recent memo suggested were unnecessary or unsubstantiated.
Crabb done. He never repeated the arguments in the second memo for leniency, but did not argue for 7 to 9 years either -- said government trusts court to come up with sentence.— Rachel Weiner (@rachelweinerwp) February 20, 2020
For instance, Crabb pushed for an enhancement because Stone’s obstruction of justice succeeded. The latest sentencing recommendation, though, argued that such an enhancement would be duplicative because “it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.” The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, granted the enhancement.
In another instance, Crabb seemed to pretty explicitly argue that the initial recommendation was still in effect. According to The Post’s team:
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb seemed to endorse the same, technical logic prosecutors had used in generating their recommendation in the first sentencing memorandum. Asked by Jackson about the change in position, Crabb said, “The guidelines enhancement applies here for the reasons set forth in the original sentencing memorandum.” He did not elaborate.“What is the government’s position today?” Jackson asked, emphasizing the word today. When Crabb said he had nothing more to offer, she said with a bit of exasperation, “Okay, fine.”
Perhaps the most remarkable moment, though, came when the judge eventually tried to reconcile Crabb’s performance with his name having been on the updated sentencing recommendation, which he didn’t seem to be pushing.
Jackson asked whether he had actually written the memo; Crabb again declined to elaborate on what has happened within the Justice Department.
When she pressed, he even left open the possibility that he was directed to write it … by someone.
ABJ: With respect to the second filing — you signed it. Did you write it?— Andrew Prokop (@awprokop) February 20, 2020
Crabb: I’m not at liberty to discuss the internal deliberations in DOJ.
ABJ: Were you directed to write it by someone else?
Crabb: I can’t answer.
The scenes will heighten suspicions about what’s happening behind the scenes in the Justice Department. Some suggested that Crabb was perhaps making a statement by reverting to the arguments in the first recommendation. If that’s not the case, though, the fact that he did move in that direction suggests that this whole drama was somewhat pointless in the first place. If the Justice Department was just going to argue the same points from the first recommendation, why overrule the sentencing recommendation and make it look like Trump was dictating how his Justice Department prosecuted his ally?
Looming over all of it is Trump’s continued disregard for Barr’s request that he stop tweeting about these matters. Even as the sentencing hearing was getting started on Thursday, Trump was tweeting about Stone and another case in which the Justice Department recently opted not to pursue charges — that of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
“They say Roger Stone lied to Congress.” @CNN OH, I see, but so did Comey (and he also leaked classified information, for which almost everyone, other than Crooked Hillary Clinton, goes to jail for a long time), and so did Andy McCabe, who also lied to the FBI! FAIRNESS?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2020
Barr has said such tweets make it “impossible for me to do my job” and has put out word that he has considered resigning if it continues.
It has continued, and the scenes in the courtroom Thursday don’t exactly suggest an attorney general who has control of the situation.