Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec on Thursday hit back at House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s threat to potentially seek impeachment against Attorney General Bill Barr, slamming the suggestion as simply a “political thing.”
Nadler, D-N.Y., suggested this week that his committee “may very well” initiate impeachment proceedings, amid his panel’s broad investigation into the alleged “unprecedented politicization” of the Justice Department under the Trump administration.
But Kupec, during an interview on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, cast his threat as a “political thing.”
“If people have a problem with Bill Barr coming back to the Department of Justice to restore one system of justice, not a two-tiered system, I think that says a lot more about the critics than it does about the attorney general,” Kupec said. “Because that is what he has done again and again.”
“He approaches all cases with an open mind. He judges them according to the facts and the law without regard to political consideration,” Kupec continued. “This is what he promised to at his confirmation, this is what he has done throughout his tenure as attorney general, and that is what he will continue to do until his last day as AG.”
Kupec confirmed Thursday that Barr accepted an invitation to testify before Nadler’s committee next month, on July 28, after Nadler threatened to subpoena him and compel his testimony.
On Wednesday, Nadler held a hearing featuring two Justice Department officials who criticized Barr’s leadership. Following the hearing, Nadler suggested impeachment was an option.
“I think the weight of the evidence and of what’s happened leads to that conclusion,” Nadler told CNN.
Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney, testified before Nadler’s committee Wednesday and said that the DOJ’s handling of the sentencing for longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone was treated “differently from everyone else” because of his relationship with President Trump.
“What I saw was the Department of Justice Exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject -- and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction,” Zelinsky said in written testimony.
“Such pressure resulted in the virtually unprecedented decision to override the original sentencing recommendation in his case and to file a new sentencing memorandum that included statements and assertions at odds with the record and contrary to Department of Justice policy,” he continued.
He added: “What I heard -- repeatedly -- was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president.”
Stone, in February, was sentenced to three years in prison, after being convicted in November 2019 on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress on charges that stemmed from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of 87 to 108 months for the charges, but in a reversal, senior leadership at the Justice Department, including Barr, overruled and scaled back their recommended prison sentence. The sentence, as is customary, was ultimately determined by the federal judge in the case.
Stone has yet to report to prison because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Kupec, on Thursday, called Zelinsky’s claims “ridiculous on its face.”
“Mr. Zelinsky— a line prosecutor, a low-level prosecutor—had no interaction with the attorney general or political leadership,” she said. “He is making these accusations based on hearsay, at best. He has no first-hand knowledge of what he’s talking about.”
She added that the initial sentencing recommendation for Stone was considered “excessive” by Barr, and that he felt that it “was not consistent with other cases” and suggested leaving it to the judge.
“And what did the judge ultimately do?” Kupec said. “This judge cut in half the recommendation of those original prosecutors, which was completely consistent with what the attorney general recommended, so there was vindication there.”
She added: “It’s really as simple as that—but certainly—in the interest of fairness and even-handed justice and one system of justice, the attorney general did the right thing—whether it’s for Mr. Stone or any other cases that are brought before him.”
She also said the DOJ is "pleased" with a federal appeals court order a day earlier to allow the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to be dismissed.
He had pleaded guilty to lying to investigators as part of the Russia probe, but the DOJ later abandoned the case citing problems with the investigation, even as Democrats cited the move as further evidence of politicizing the department.