Former Department Of Justice Inspector General Sounds Alarm On Politicization Of DOJ
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Quote, "this is not what you signed up for. The four prosecutors who bailed on the Stone case have shown the way." That message, in the form of a tweet, comes from former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich, and it is directed at DOJ employees. The four prosecutors Bromwich refers to are the four prosecutors who oversaw the Roger Stone case.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
They all withdrew from Stone's case yesterday after the Justice Department overruled their sentencing recommendation in favor of a more lenient one. Stone, a longtime friend and confidant of President Trump, was convicted on charges that came out of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. Michael Bromwich joins me now to talk more. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BROMWICH: Thank you. Good to be here.
CORNISH: You've said in a tweet also that DOJ employees should report all instances of improper political influence and other misdeeds to the Justice Department's inspector general, who's required to protect your identity. What do you think should be reported in this case?
BROMWICH: Well, I think the inspector general knows enough about this case to launch an investigation into what happened, who was behind it, how it came to pass and everything that alarmed so many people who have spent years in the Department of Justice upholding its traditions and upholding its independence. I think a number of people that I communicated with yesterday and whose posts I saw on various social media outlets were shocked and appalled about what appears to be a sort of a naked political intervention and the upending of the career prosecutors' recommendations as to what was an appropriate sentence for Mr. Stone.
CORNISH: We should notice - we should note that you're representing fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe - He was accused of lying about a leak - and also Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. I want to set this aside for a moment and talk about the response from the White House because this is what President Trump had to say about these accusations today.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn't speak to them, by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing. You have murderers and drug addicts that don't get nine years.
CORNISH: Do you have a response to that?
BROMWICH: Well, he doesn't have to be in direct communication with the Department of Justice, the attorney general or anybody else. He broadcasts his view for everybody to know on Twitter. And he made it clear that he thought the nine-year sentence recommendation - and he obviously knows nothing about the sentencing guidelines and the fact that a nine-year recommendation was within the guidelines' range for these kinds of offenses. He told everybody that he thought it was outrageous because it's connected to the Mueller investigation, which he publicly and many times has said he believes to be a total hoax. And so...
CORNISH: I want to jump in here because the president also added that he could weigh in on a sentencing if he wanted to. Are there any laws that govern what the president can and can't do when it comes to the Justice Department?
BROMWICH: There are no laws that prohibit him from doing what he's doing, but every president during my lifetime - and I think going back before I was born - has known that intervening in a criminal investigation or a criminal prosecution, including the sentencing, is inappropriate. And there have been safeguards in place for the last several decades at least that dramatically limit communication between anybody in the White House, much less the president and people in the Justice Department, precisely to avoid the political contamination of cases and to impair the independence of the Justice Department.
The president is head of the executive branch. That's undeniable. But nevertheless, people have realized over time that for our criminal justice system to be respected at home and abroad, we have to insulate the Department of Justice from blatant naked political influence. And that's exactly what the president appears to be applying here.
CORNISH: In our final moments here, isn't sentencing ultimately up to the judge in this case? I mean, does it matter what the Justice Department recommends?
BROMWICH: Well, it does generally matter what the Justice Department recommends. You're quite right that the judge is the ultimate decision-maker in terms of what the sentence is, but judges rely on the recommendations of the Justice Department. And right now, if I'm Judge Amy Berman Jackson, I'm completely and thoroughly confused because I've got two separate sentencing recommendations, one from the people who handled the case in front of her and tried the case in front of her and one from a superior who signed a document advocating a lesser sentence after the four of them had decided to go off the case.
CORNISH: You're saying that she should actually call them all to discuss this before the court. Is that within her power?
BROMWICH: It's definitely within her power, absolutely. If I were she, I would want to bring them all in, including up to the attorney general, and say, this has never happened to me in my years on the bench or in my years as a practicing lawyer. I need to know what in the world went on here so that I can process it and figure out what impact that should have on the sentence that I ultimately impose on Mr. Stone.
CORNISH: That's Michael Bromwich. He was an inspector general overseeing the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration. Thank you for your time.
BROMWICH: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.