Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump's intervention in the sentencing of longtime ally Roger Stone is an “abuse of power” — mirroring the language of the charge that the House impeached Trump on in December and which he was acquitted of last week by the Senate.
But Pelosi declined to commit to a congressional investigation of the matter, instead pointing to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for an inspector general investigation into political interference in the Stone sentencing. Pelosi also noted that Attorney General William Barr has accepted an invitation to testify before Congress at the end of March, a hearing she said she wished were sooner but was nevertheless good to have officially on the books.
“This is an abuse of power that the president is again trying to manipulate federal law enforcement to serve his political interest,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.
The California Democrat declined to articulate her view on whether Congress should pursue additional investigations or take other steps to confront Trump's actions ahead of the 2020 election. But she called for bipartisan resistance to the president’s move to interfere in the justice system.
“This is not what America is about,” Pelosi told reporters. “I would hope that Republicans who respect the rule of law, and I assume most of them do except for the aberration in the White House ... would speak out on this.”
Stone is slated to be sentenced next week on his conviction for lying to congressional investigators about his efforts to procure damaging information about Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks and pass them on to the Trump campaign. He was also convicted of threatening a witness and urging him not to testify truthfully to lawmakers.
Prosecutors in the matter recommended Stone face a seven- to nine-year sentence because of the gravity of the investigation he impeded as well as repeated violations of a gag order imposed by the judge in the matter. Hours later, Trump tweeted that the proposed punishment was unfair, and later that day, the Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors and asked the judge for a lesser punishment. Trump later celebrated the move and attributed it to intervention by Barr.
The move alarmed veteran prosecutors and led to howls of protest among Democrats, while Republicans mostly shrugged or offered mild concern.
"Convince me that what Trump has done since the impeachment vote isn’t worse than what he did to warrant impeachment," Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted Wednesday evening.
Even one Senate Democrat who backed Barr's nomination to become attorney general raised concerns about his involvement in the Stone sentencing decision.
"Improper political interference in criminal proceedings and sentencing recommendations, if it occurred, raises serious moral and ethical questions about the independent and impartial application of the law," Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) wrote in a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, urging a review of the matter.
But House Democrats haven't indicated whether they plan to take any specific steps in response to the episode other than questioning Barr about it on March 31, nearly seven weeks from now. Some have privately suggested the House should consider calling the DOJ prosecutors who issued the initial recommendation, all of whom withdrew from the case after Barr's intervention. But it's unclear whether the Judiciary Committee is trying to secure their testimony.
Democrats are also weighing whether to reengage their investigation of Trump's effort to press Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats on specious charges, which is what led to the House's impeachment inquiry.