This Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing spotlighting the sharp politicization of the Justice Department under the leadership of the Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr. The witnesses included federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who’d served on the federal government’s case against Trump ally Roger Stone, and Marc Elias, who’d worked in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which has carried out politically motivated investigations into enemies of the Trump team. Zelinsky bluntly revealed that he’d been “pressured to offer a more lenient sentencing recommendation” for Stone because of “political” reasons, The Washington Post summarizes.
Zelinsky said that he “was told that the acting U.S. attorney was giving Stone a break because he was afraid of the president of the United States,” explaining:
‘What I heard repeatedly was that this leniency was happening because of Stone’s relationship to the president, that the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice and that his instructions to us were based on political considerations… It pains me to describe these events, but Judge [Amy Berman] Jackson said in this case, the truth still matters. And so I am here today to tell you the truth.’
As the Post summarizes, Zelinsky “conceded he did not have firsthand knowledge of discussions among political leadership,” but the facts are clear: the prosecution team including Zelinsky was eventually overruled by political higher-ups at the Justice Department, who intervened to lower the prosecution’s initial sentencing recommendation for Stone. Zelinsky and all of the other federal prosecutors who had their work overruled promptly resigned from their role on the case in apparent protest.
Meanwhile, at the same hearing, John Elias from the Justice Department’s antitrust division “said that Barr ordered staff to investigate marijuana company mergers simply because of his “personal dislike” of the nature of their underlying business,” according to The Washington Post. There have also been politicization concerns about an eventually unsuccessful case that the Justice Department brought to try and block a planned merger between AT&T and Time Warner, the latter of which owned CNN, which is a frequent target of criticism from the president.
Another witness at the Wednesday hearing was former deputy attorney general Donald Ayer, who insisted that Barr “poses the greatest threat in my lifetime to our rule of law.” Separately, Ayer added:
‘The most serious problem I’m concerned about is his accelerating recitation of this narrative about Obamagate, or deep state conspiracy… that is a totally improper misuse of the Department of Justice.’
Ayer says Barr is "essentially using the DOJ to support the president's campaign."
"The most serious problem I'm concerned about is his accelerating recitation of this narrative about Obamagate, or deep state conspiracy … that's a totally improper misuse of the DOJ." pic.twitter.com/cmVB4PFbCP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 24, 2020
Going forward, Barr has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next month, according to Justice Department Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec, who described the hearing as a “general oversight hearing.” Although the hearing is slated to cover “general oversight” on paper, the hearing will likely feature ample questioning from Democratic committee members about some of the most contentious recent pieces of news out of the Justice Department, including Barr’s abrupt work to oust U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was investigating Trump ally Rudy Giuliani.
The Attorney General has accepted an invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a general oversight hearing on July 28th.
— Kerri Kupec DOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) June 24, 2020