In his latest brazen move since being acquitted on impeachment charges, Donald Trump appeared to applaud his hand-picked attorney general for softening the sentence recommendation for his former campaign aide and friend, Roger Stone.
After Democratic lawmakers and legal experts panned the president on Tuesday for using a tweet to trigger Attorney General William Barr to step in and lessen what was to be a nine-year sentencing recommendation for the longtime GOP political operative, Mr Trump showed the next morning he is feeling free to wield his power in new ways.
"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," Mr Trump wrote in a tweet.
The president even accused former Special Counsel Robert S Mueller III of lying to Congress when he testified about his Russia election meddling report. Lawmakers, however, have taken no action to discipline Mr Mueller for any such false statements.
The Wednesday morning tweet appeared to contradict Mr Trump's denial of instructing Mr Barr to intervene in Stone's sentencing on charges of lying to Congress and obstructing a federal investigation.
After summoning journalists to the Oval Office the previous day, the president denied instructing Justice Department officials to recommend a softer sentence for his friend, calling the initial nine-year sentence recommendation "ridiculous" and "an insult to our country."
Mr Trump often floats an idea in a tweet or public comments, but stops shy of issuing a formal order to a Cabinet official or senior White House aide. Then, once his desired act has been carried out, he issues a similarly vague public statement that appears to reflect him celebrating what he sees as a victory.
The matter prompted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats to loudly object – but, as the impeachment trial showed, they lack the votes to do much about it. GOP lawmakers have stuck by Mr Trump through all his controversial actions and statements, largely due to a fear that him attacking them on Twitter would doom their political careers by conjuring a primary challenger from their right.
All Mr Schumer can do, for now at least, is urge the Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to look into the situation.
"This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution," the Democratic leader wrote in a letter to the IG, asking Mr Horowitz to determine what led Mr Barr to soften the sentencing recommendation and which administration officials were involved.
Mr Schumer raised concerns about the soundness of the US justice system if "the president or his political appointees are permitted to interfere in prosecution and sentencing recommendations in order to protect their friends and associates."
"The president seems to think the entire Justice Department is just his personal lawsuit to prosecute his enemies and help his friends," Mr Schumer told reporters. "Rule of law in this grand tradition in this wonderful Justice Department is just being totally perverted to Donald Trump's own personal desires and needs and it's a disgrace."
In a subsequent tweet, Mr Trump angrily contrasted Stone's recommended sentence with the two months handed down to someone he referred to as a "Swamp Creature" – believed to be a reference to former Senate staffer James Wolfe, who was jailed in 2018 for lying to the FBI. It appeared that the president had been reminded of the case while watching cable TV.
Mr Trump wrote: "Two months in jail for a Swamp Creature, yet 9 years recommended for Roger Stone (who was not even working for the Trump Campaign). Gee, that sounds very fair! Rogue prosecutors maybe? The Swamp! @foxandfriends @TuckerCarlson."
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