(CNN)A credibility crisis rocking President Donald Trump’s Justice Department significantly deepened over the long holiday weekend amid rising calls for Attorney General Bill Barr to quit over claims he has politicized of highly sensitive cases.
Latest developments suggest that the President’s destruction of the invisible wall between the White House and the department and the obliging behavior of Barr may already mean that the question of possible political interference will haunt almost every large-scale Washington case for the rest of the current administration.
The drama escalated Monday as a letter demanding Barr’s resignation by a bipartisan group of former Justice officials gathered its 2,000th signature. The officials are dismayed by the attorney general’s decisions to tone down sentencing guidelines in the case of Roger Stone — the President’s long-time confidant and political trickster. The White House however said Monday that Trump still has full confidence in Barr.
That’s perhaps not surprising since the furor follows a string of moves by the attorney general that have appeared designed to shield the President and have pulled the Department into the political fray, notwithstanding Barr’s warning last week that Trump’s tweets make it impossible for him to do his job.
The prosecutor statement and recent developments reflect how Trump’s relentless pressure on the Justice Department has at the very least left the impression of politicization — almost as damaging to confidence in the law’s independence as actual interference.
Such an outcome is why many previous Presidents have sought to avoid the impression of interfering in the Justice Department. Trump by contrast has often given the impression that the law enforcement instruments of the US government should be pressed into service to help him.
Barr is under fire not just for the Stone case, but for fulfilling Trump’s demands to probe the roots of the Russia investigation and for accepting so-called evidence on Joe Biden from the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani from the caper in Ukraine that triggered Trump’s impeachment.
The White House is meanwhile taking new efforts to discredit the Mueller investigation, and to tarnish the department’s top career leaders as partisans who sought to thwart his election.
Trump, along with his political media complex, is making a case that the problem is that the traditions and personnel of the department itself are rotten rather than the political pressure he and his acolytes are heaping upon the entire department.
“What we have been seeing again and again is that the Department of Justice has been politicized and the Attorney General Barr is trying to correct it, ” Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
The latest trigger for the Justice Department crisis — the Stone case — will be in the spotlight Tuesday when a federal judge holds a scheduling call in a case involving the President’s friend that is riddled with claims of political interference.
Four prosecutors quit the case after the department reversed their demands for Stone to serve up to nine years for witness intimidation and lying to Congress after Trump complained about the sentencing guidelines in a late night tweet.
The magnitude of the worst credibility crisis at the Justice Department in decades is revealed by a statement drawn up by Republican and Democratic former department officials that has now attracted more than 2,000 supporters.
“Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words,” the letter said.
The officials called on Barr to resign, but since they had no confidence he would do so asked career officials “to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice.”
Gene Rossi, one of the prosecutors who signed the document explained his reasoning to CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.
“Bill Barr has decimated the esprit de corps and the rule of law in the Department of Justice,” Rossi said.
Rossi expressed concern about the Stone case, Barr’s comments on FBI and CIA “spying” against Trump in the 2016 campaign, his misrepresenting of the Mueller report’s recommendations and his decision to reexamine the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn as signs of troubling politicization.