More than 1,100 former DOJ officials accuse Trump of behaving like autocrat over Roger Stone sentencing

Vincent Wood
AP

More than 1,100 former employees of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have called on Attorney General William Barr to step down over his handling of the sentencing of Donald Trump ally Roger Stone.

The decision to reduce the prison sentence faced by the self-described “dirty trickster” led to four DOJ prosecutors resigning from the case – amid fears the department was being unduly influenced by the Oval Office to offer preferential treatment for Mr Trump’s close confidant.

Now in an open letter 1,142 former employees of the government department have called the attorney general’s decision to intervene on a case following anger from the president the behaviour of an autocracy.

The growing list of signatories, a group of Democrat and Republican appointees which includes Bush-administration deputy attorney general Donald Ayer, said the move constituted “a grave threat to the fair administration of justice”.

“In this nation, we are all equal before the law”, the letter said. “A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President.

“Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”

Stone, who was found guilty in November on a number of counts including obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, had been set to face a prison sentence of nine years following recommendations from justice department prosecutors.

But senior officials in the department, including Mr Barr, overruled the sentence to replace it with a more lenient alternative after the president wrote on Twitter that almost a decade of prison time for the 67-year-old was “a horrible and very unfair situation”.

Both the attorney general and the president have since attempted to distance themselves from claims of political interference, with Mr Trump saying he has “so far chosen not to” exert influence over criminal proceedings handled by the department.

Shortly after four of his own prosecutors removed themselves from the case, Mr Barr appeared to chide his commander in chief while stating he was “not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody… whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president”.

However critics point out that the more lenient sentencing approved of by the president still stands. The letter added: “Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words.

“Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign.”

The Independent has approached the DOJ for comment.

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