Trump 'complicated things' by praising attorney general after Roger Stone sentence, president's lawyer says

John T Bennett
Donald Trump brandishes a newspaper with the banner headline "Acquitted" at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, a day after the Senate impeachment trial ended: AP

A member of Donald Trump's impeachment defence team has criticised the president, saying his support for attorney general William Barr's move to reduce a sentencing recommendation for his friend "complicated things."

"I do think that the attorney general ... did send a strong message that when you have sensitive matters like a sentencing before a court where someone's liberty is at stake, it's important that the executive branch speak with one voice," Robert Ray said during a Sunday radio interview.

"I think that the president's tweets under the circumstances complicated things and ... are better left for a time that is not so sensitive," Mr Ray said.

He was referring to Mr Trump's tweets and comments last week in which he first floated the notion of the Justice Department backing down from a planned nine-year sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign.

After firing off a tweet Monday morning calling the Justice Department's plans to seek a nearly decade-long sentence for Mr Stone "a horrible and very unfair situation" and a "miscarriage of justice," DOJ leaders just hours later announced they would seek a softer sentence.

Democratic lawmakers and some legal experts warned Mr Trump's actions and words show that after his Senate acquittal, he is throwing around unprecedented amounts of presidential power.

"This doesn't mean that I do not have, as president, the legal right to do so, I do," Mr Trump wrote on Friday morning, "but I have so far chosen not to!"

Four federal prosecutors resigned from the Stone case in protest. Since then, more than 1,000 former Justice Department officials have called on Mr Barr to step down over what they called his "unheard of" actions to lower the sentencing recommendation per Mr Trump's wishes.

Mr Barr contends he was surprised by the nine-year suggestion to a judge, and merely altered the recommendation to reflect what he believed was an internal DOJ agreement he had reached with subordinates.

"And I'm happy to say that, in fact," Mr Barr told ABC News last week, "the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case."

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