The Roger Stone sentencing uproar is deeply important, and not because it’s another Trump “scandal.” Rather, it’s a clash that was always coming—the moment at which an ungoverned bureaucracy smacked up against Attorney General William Barr’s promise to restore equal justice and accountability at the Justice Department.
Democrats and the media are in a tizzy over the department leadership’s Tuesday decision to file a sentencing memo calling for Mr. Stone to receive a shorter prison sentence than four line prosecutors originally recommended. The reversal came not long after President Trump tweeted his own outrage over the initial sentencing memo, leading to the inevitable conspiracy theories and calls for investigation.
Democrats claimed Mr. Trump politically interfered with justice, bullying the department into going easy on a political crony. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proclaims “a crisis in the rule of law.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Impeachment) declared another “abuse of power.” The press is casting it as Example A of how a postacquittal Trump feels emboldened to ignore the law.
This has it entirely backward. Here’s what actually happened: Justice sources tell me that interim U.S. Attorney Tim Shea had told the department’s leadership he and other career officials in the office felt the proposed sentence was excessive. As the deadline for the filing neared, the prosecutors on the case nonetheless threatened to withdraw from the case unless they got their demands for these stiffest of penalties. Mr. Shea—new to the job—suffered a moment of cowardice and submitted to this ultimatum. The filing took Justice Department leaders by surprise, and the decision to reverse was made well before Mr. Trump tweeted, and with no communication with the White House. The revised filing, meanwhile, had the signature of the acting supervisor of the office’s criminal division, who is a career civil servant, not a political appointee.