Republicans in Congress on Wednesday rejected calls to investigate possible political interference at the U.S. Justice Department after the agency asked for a lighter prison term for President Donald Trump’s long-time adviser Roger Stone.
The Justice Department’s decision to back off its sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for the Republican operative sent shock waves through Washington and prompted all four prosecutors to quit the case and one to quit the agency.
“There should be an investigation,” said House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the No. 1 Democrat in Congress. Other Democrats accused Mr. Trump of purging the U.S. government of perceived enemies following his acquittal on impeachment charges last week.
Republican lawmakers, who nearly all voted to acquit Mr. Trump of impeachment charges, offered muted criticism of the president but shrugged off suggestions they should investigate whether his political concerns were influencing law enforcement.
“I doubt that would do much,” said Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator to vote to remove Mr. Trump from office in the impeachment trial.
After the Justice Department decision, Mr. Trump on Wednesday praised Attorney-General Bill Barr, his appointee to the law enforcement job, for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Speaking to reporters later at the White House, Mr. Trump thanked Justice Department officials for retracting the prison-term recommendation. He said Mr. Stone had been treated badly but declined to say whether he was considering pardoning him.
Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said he would not call Mr. Barr to testify about the revised sentencing decision.
Barr has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next month, the Justice Department confirmed. The Democrats said they plan to ask Barr about the department’s decision this week to overrule four federal prosecutors and lower the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone.
Mr. Stone, a self-proclaimed “dirty trickster,” was found guilty last year of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
After Mr. Trump criticized prosecutors who recommended the seven-to-nine-year prison term, the Justice Department asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to ignore that filing and impose whatever sentence she thought appropriate.
Justice Department officials and the White House said Mr. Trump did not influence that decision.
“While he has the right to have a conversation with the attorney-general, he did not,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters.
TRUMP TARGETS JUDGE, PROSECUTORS
Mr. Trump targeted the judge and the outgoing prosecutors in other tweets, and retweeted a post that urged a full pardon for Mr. Stone as well as Michael Flynn, another former Trump adviser.
Mr. Stone is due to be sentenced on Feb. 20 after being found guilty in November on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering stemming from a government investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Mr. Stone and his lawyers have not spoken with Mr. Trump about the latest developments in his case, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The White House also on Tuesday dropped a top prosecutor who oversaw the Stone case, withdrawing the nomination for Jessie Liu to serve in the Treasury Department. Ms. Liu had been scheduled to appear publicly before the Senate on Thursday.
The White House declined to comment on Ms. Liu’s nomination or to say whether Mr. Trump would pardon Mr. Stone or Mr. Flynn.
In Congress, House judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said he would probe the reversal. Democratic Representative Ted Lieu, who serves on the committee, said there would be hearings on the matter.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Justice Department’s internal watchdog to investigate, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Mr. Barr should resign or face impeachment.
“Trump is going around getting even with people. Senate Republicans told us he was going to get better, and he didn’t,” Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown told reporters.
Several Republicans said Mr. Trump should not have shared his opinion about the Stone case.
“The president should not have gotten involved,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins, who said last week that she thought Mr. Trump would moderate his behaviour after impeachment.
Others said they saw nothing wrong.
“I’m not disturbed about it at all,” Republican Senator Tim Scott told reporters.
With a report from The Associated Press
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