Sauders: Trump’s tweets gave cover to prosecutorial overreach

If Trump had kept quiet, Barr could have made the case the sentence recommendation for Stone was unjust.

By Debra J. Saunders / Las Vegas Review-Journal

President Trump is turning his base into hardcore civil libertarians and turning the left into brutal authoritarians. Although, to be fair, he’s not doing it alone. Overzealous federal prosecutors are the big drivers.

Exhibit A: Roger Stone, the GOP bad boy found guilty in November on seven counts of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing a House investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The big news of last week is that four federal prosecutors told the judge he should go to prison for up to nine years, Trump had the cheek to call the sentence “ridiculous” and the Department of Justice recommended less time.

So the four feds quit the case and were hailed as Watergate-esque heroes.

I won’t defend Stone’s actions; an avid self-promoter, he built his career on his contempt for election rules, and that rarely ends well.

That said, Stone was convicted for nonviolent crimes. So it made no sense that four federal prosecutors recommended that a man with no criminal history serve the sort of time that should be reserved for violent or repeat offenders.

It was impossible to watch the breathless reports of each prosecutor exiting and not suspect that the four feds recommended draconian time precisely because they wanted the administration to override their recommendation, seemingly in response to Trump’s rhetorical pressure.

The bait was taken; and that opened the door for overzealous prosecutors to pose as crusading underdogs who stood up to Trump’s attorney general, bad Bill Barr. (On Thursday, Barr told ABC News that he decided to recommend less time for Stone before Trump weighed in, which Barr wishes Trump would not do.)

Somehow it hasn’t mattered that Judge Amy Berman Jackson will rule this week based on her own criteria. To question the authority of the four prosecutors’ recommendation was considered so offensive that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., among others, proposed impeachment hearings against Barr.

But as long as we are questioning the four prosecutors, allow me to ask: Did the Justice Department really need four prosecutors to argue this case? Didn’t they have anything better to do?

No wonder they argued for seven to nine years. They couldn’t spend all that time and money on a case that ended with a senior citizen being put on probation.

This is how overblown the four feds’ recommendation was. They asked for a sentencing enhancement based on Stone’s “threatening to cause physical injury” to associate Randy Credico, who has said he never felt a genuine threat from Stone. Extra years in prison for an empty threat? This is justice?

“They’ve been ‘frenemies’ for years,” ex-wife Ann Stone, a Republican strategist, told me. That’s the way they communicated with each other.

As far as Ann Stone is concerned, “There was no crime except that he was showing off.”

Her ex-husband liked to brag, she said, and those who heard him say he had an in with WikiLeaks surely “knew he was stretching the truth.” For that, she added, he should not go to prison.

Ann Stone is appalled at the government’s behavior from the moment heavily armed FBI agents showed up with guns drawn outside her former husband’s Fort Lauderdale home in February 2019.

There’s been a lot of talk about Trump inappropriately inserting himself in a federal sentencing question better left to professionals. Barr is right; Trump should keep more of his opinions to himself.

It’s sad that Trump’s tweets have served to make Barr’s reasonable approach to Stone’s sentencing appear as if the department is caving in to Oval Office tweets. And it is a shame that Democrats are ready to frame Barr’s humane check on prosecutorial overreach as if it is pandering, not principle.

In a better world, more justice officials would curb prosecutors’ zeal to put away nonviolent low-level offenders for years.

In this world, Democrats are apoplectic because Barr doesn’t want to put a first-time nonviolent offender away for up to nine years. Question authority, the left preaches, unless the left abuses it.

Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @DebraJSaunders.

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