That office was headed by a prosecutor independent of the Trump administration, Jessie Liu. Liu was then deftly moved aside. In December, President Trump nominated her for an important job at the U.S. Treasury. Liu resigned on February 1. To fill Liu’s place, Barr turned to one of his closest aides, Timothy Shea, who was appointed to head the office on an interim basis. Once Shea was installed, Liu’s nomination was withdrawn.
That has produced a remarkable result. Barr and Trump have tightened their control of the U.S. attorney’s office without Senate questioning of either the outgoing or the incoming U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
These maneuvers have enabled Barr to bestow leniency upon Trump cronies convicted of crimes.
The day after Liu resigned, Barr and Shea changed their sentencing recommendation for the disgraced Trump adviser Michael Flynn, from six months in prison to probation. Flynn was convicted of lying to the FBI, which surely counts as “resisting police officers.”
Then the next week, Barr and Shea forced a reversal in the sentencing recommendation for Stone, who was convicted of lying, obstruction, and witness tampering. That about-face prompted four prosecutors to resign: So much for appreciating the efforts of those who sacrifice to ensure “a society where the law will be enforced.”
Now the Department of Justice is nearing decisions on whether to charge the close Trump associates Erik Prince and Rudy Giuliani with criminal violations. Prince—the founder of Blackwater USA, the private-security company now known as Academi, and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—faces potential charges of lying to Congress during the Trump-Russia investigation. Giuliani is at risk under the foreign-agent registration laws previously broken by Flynn. But at risk is really not the right phrase to describe the legal situation of a Trump associate during Barr’s tenure. They look to be as safe as a runner on third with the ball headed over the fence.
Donald Ayer: Why Bill Barr is so dangerous
The Trump administration rationalizes its treatment of Stone by endlessly fulminating and tweeting against prosecutors, judges, even jury forepersons. Barr’s warnings against inquiring into subjective motivations in the case of uniformed police dealing with street crime get forgotten when the police wear suits and ties and must deal with Trump crime. Then (and only then!) it matters whether the officer in question showed previous loyalty to President Trump. If not, then (and only then!) the officer’s possible motive matters more than anything, and certainly more than the proven evidence.
American criminal law is harsh; American prison sentences are severe. Most of the time, Trump and his attorney general relish this harshness.
As Barr said in yet another lecture, this one at the University of Notre Dame in October:
Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.
No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.
But when the passions and appetites are enlisted in the service of Trump—when, like Roger Stone, Trump’s supporters ride roughshod over neighbors by attempting to connect to an espionage cutout such as WikiLeaks in the hopes of swaying a U.S. election—then (and only then!) it becomes appropriate to temper the severity of justice with the sweetness of mercy.