Senate Democrats have called on Attorney General William Barr to resign or face impeachment after President Donald Trump appeared to confirm that Barr had intervened in the case against the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone.
“Donald Trump is shredding the rule of law in this country,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted Wednesday. “Congress must act immediately to rein in our lawless Attorney General. Barr should resign or face impeachment.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat, told NBC News earlier in the day that he believes Barr has “no choice” but to resign.
“He’s acting simply as a henchman of the president,” Blumenthal said.
All four federal prosecutors who ran Stone’s trial abruptly withdrew from the case on Tuesday after Justice Department leadership intervened to reduce their sentencing recommendation.
The prosecutors told the court on Monday that Stone should face seven to nine years behind bars for witness tampering and lying to Congress. Trump, who has leaned on Stone as an adviser since the 1980s, tweeted that the sentencing recommendation was too long and called it a “miscarriage of justice.”
After Trump’s tweet, which was sent around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the Justice Department signaled that it planned to revise the sentencing recommendation. The career prosecutors dropped out one by one soon after.
Trump appeared to confirm that Barr had intervened in the case in a series of tweets on Wednesday, praising the attorney general for “taking charge.” Trump had appointed Barr to head the Justice Department in 2018 after firing Jeff Sessions.
Meanwhile, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley denied that Trump had interfered in Stone’s sentencing during an appearance Wednesday on Fox News. “Look, [Trump] is the chief law enforcement officer,” Gidley said. “He has the right to do it. He just didn’t. He didn’t make any comment, didn’t have a conversation with the attorney general and that’s just ludicrous.”
Asked whether he would pardon Stone, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he doesn’t “want to say yet.”
“I want to thank the Justice Department,” he said. “They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing. You have murderers and drug addicts — they don’t get nine years.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the revised sentencing recommendation and urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the matter.
“The president is claiming that rigging the rules is perfectly legitimate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “He claims an absolute right to order the Justice Department to do whatever he wants. And the president has as his attorney general an enabler.”
“That is third-world behavior ― not American behavior,” Schumer continued. “This is not ordinary stuff. Never seen it before with any president.”
Several Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris of California and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, echoed Schumer’s outrage, and legal experts warned of the potentially devastating consequences of Trump’s brazen coordination with the Justice Department.
“The Rule of Law is gasping for breath, being suffocated by Trump and his personal henchman Bill Barr,” tweeted Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University. “Not even a pretense of legality. They’re doing it because they can. It’s raw, naked, unprincipled, immoral power.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress, told CNN on Wednesday that he didn’t believe his committee would investigate the issue.
Stone will “probably go to jail, but I think a seven- [to] nine-year sentence wouldn’t be appropriate here,” Graham said. He added, however, that he doesn’t believe Trump should be tweeting about the ongoing case.
“I’ve told him that,” he said.
Barr has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31 as part of the panel’s normal oversight. Democratic committee members sent a letter to Barr on Wednesday outlining several issues they plan to ask him about, including Stone’s sentencing recommendation.
The chaos surrounding Stone’s sentencing follows the Senate’s vote to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment regarding his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting to remove Trump from office.
Some Senate Republicans said Trump’s efforts to seek foreign interference were “wrong” and “inappropriate” but that they believe he wouldn’t do it again after having gone through impeachment.
But Democrats warned that Trump would only feel more empowered to abuse his office.
“This is what we feared,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “The message is now clear: If you commit a felony in support of the president’s reelection, there will be protection there for you. It’s really, really, really dangerous for the republic.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that Attorney General William Barr would testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.