Bill Barr has thrown DOJ into a tailspin — and prosecutors have felt 'under siege' for months: report

Bill Barr has thrown DOJ into a tailspin — and prosecutors have felt 'under siege' for months: report
CBS News

The first thing federal prosecutors working on Roger Stone's case heard from their new boss, a Bill Barr loyalist, was that he wanted the sentencing recommendation for Stone weakened. It was Timothy Shea's first day on the job after being installed as the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, and the Stone prosecutors, just days away from filing their sentencing recommendation, felt "under siege," according to The New York Times.

Shortly after those prosecutors recommended 7 to 9 years for Stone's conviction on seven felony counts, Attorney General Barr himself would intervene in the case as Donald Trump groused on Twitter, decrying the recommendation as a "miscarriage of justice." A day later, all four prosecutors, led by Aaron Zelinsky, quit the case.

But strains between the 600-person office and the Department of Justice began to emerge as far back as last summer during an effort to charge one of Trump's favorite political enemies, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, with lying to investigators. After Shea's predecessor, Jessie Liu, tried and failed to secure a grand jury indictment in the McCabe case, her relationship with Barr reportedly soured.

Prosecutors in the Washington office generally viewed Liu favorably for shielding them from interference by Barr and Trump. But she had also worked hard to achieve an indictment in the McCabe case after one team of prosecutors determined that it couldn't get a conviction and quit, and then a second team subsequently failed to convince the grand jury in the case to indict.

Liu eventually sought to leave the position for a top job at the Treasury Department. When she informed her colleagues that she would be leaving, she said she would continue at her post until a replacement could be identified and confirmed. Barr, however, asked Liu to leave in early January, and after acquiescing, she sent out an email informing her colleagues that her departure date had been moved up. That's when prosecutors in the office got particularly squeamish, believing that Liu had been forced out based on her inability to deliver the McCabe indictment.

Suspicions surrounding Liu's sudden departure set up Shea for a rude awakening by the time he arrived on the job. After weighing in on the Stone sentencing, the prosecutors quickly let it be known that they would quit the case if they were forced to alter their sentencing recommendation. Shea backed down, but when Barr moved to overrule them, they followed through on their threat, throwing Barr and the Justice Department into a tailspin that Barr's still trying bring under control.

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