Any questions over the sincerity of President Donald Trump’s concerns about what he has characterized as the politicization of the Justice Department during the Obama years were put to rest this week with the response his complaints about the trial of a friend appeared to elicit from DOJ leaders.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign gained steam in the summer of 2017, Trump tried to change the topic to alleged undue political influence on Obama’s Justice Department.
“A.G. Lynch made law enforcement decisions for political purposes...gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection. Totally illegal!” Trump tweeted on June 13, 2017, echoing an allegation he made repeatedly during the 2016 campaign about the Clintons allegedly having undue influence on Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
A.G. Lynch made law enforcement decisions for political purposes...gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection. Totally illegal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2017
Trump’s claim was a misrepresentation. The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton and her infamous private email server arguably helped cost her the presidency, so the idea that she got “a free pass” is false.
But beyond the specifics of the Clinton case, the events of this week make it clear that Trump never really had good-faith concerns about the politicization of the DOJ. In fact, he’s an outspoken supporter of it, so long as the people receiving “a free pass and protection” are among his associates.
The clearest illustration of this came on Wednesday morning, when Trump commended Attorney General Bill Barr for intervening in the case of Roger Stone, a longtime associate of his who was convicted of obstructing an investigation of the president’s campaign (among other charges) based on information brought to light by the Mueller investigation.
“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” Trump tweeted. “Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”
Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Trump’s comment about Barr “taking charge of a case” refers to an unusual move the DOJ made on Tuesday to reduce the sentencing recommendation for Stone. Prosecutors on the case recommended a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for Stone, but after Trump went on a Twitter tirade on Tuesday morning over a situation he characterized as “a horrible and very unfair situation” and a “miscarriage of justice,” the DOJ abruptly reversed course and recommended an unspecified lesser sentence for Stone.
That move prompted the entire prosecution team to step down from the case, and one prosecutor resigned from the DOJ entirely.
The DOJ tried to frame the abrupt about-face as one rooted in good-faith concerns about the severity of Stone’s sentencing recommendation, but Trump trampled on that talking point by posting tweets that made clear his motivations were political.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, Trump told reporters that while he hadn’t communicated with Barr or the DOJ about the Stone case, “I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it.”
Asked about Roger Stone, Trump says he has an “absolute right” to tell the Justice Department what to do pic.twitter.com/AZRv9Aff7P— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
But that’s beside the point. Trump made his position clear on Twitter. Barr’s DOJ seemingly got the hint and acted accordingly. No direct communication was necessary for the president to get the DOJ to do his bidding by protecting one of his confidants — the exact thing he not so long ago criticized Obama’s attorney general for doing.