Ex-DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign After Intervening In Stone Case
NOEL KING, HOST:
More than 1,100 former Department of Justice officials are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign. They wrote an open letter accusing Barr of doing the president's personal bidding and violating the department's rules. Those rules say that legal decisions must be impartial and insulated from political influence, and they say Barr broke that rule when he intervened in the sentencing recommendation of President Trump's friend, Roger Stone. Mary McCord signed that letter. She served as the department's acting assistant attorney general for national security from 2016 to 2017.
Good morning, Ms. McCord.
MARY MCCORD: Good morning.
KING: Why did you sign the letter?
MCCORD: Well, I - in addition to having served as the acting assistant attorney general, I also was a prosecutor in the D.C. U.S. attorney's office for over 20 years, culminating as a criminal division chief, and so I myself have many, many times stood in front of judges of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals and made representations on behalf of the Department of Justice that I felt certain I was authorized to make and that I had the full backing of the department behind me.
And my concern about Mr. Barr's actions and, certainly, seeming to be at the at the will of the president, is that it damages the credibility of prosecutors who every day, day in and day out, appear in front of judges and in courts and represent the United States and the American people. And my fear is that there are some judges that will have concerns about whether in particular - particularly in politically charged cases, will have concern about whether those individual prosecutors - what they say has the backing of the department or whether the department potentially will be switching positions in furtherance of political wishes.
KING: The 1,100 people who signed this letter were all former officials. Do you still talk to people who work inside the DOJ? And if I may ask, what are they telling you? How worried are they?
MCCORD: Well, I don't call my former colleagues and ask their opinions about things like this because I...
KING: Fair enough.
MCCORD: ...Really don't - I don't want to put them in that awkward position. I do sometimes hear from people who reach out to me, and I think they are feeling very demoralized. They're feeling very concerned about the reputation and credibility of the department and, you know, concerned about these internal guidelines and norms and boundaries that protect the independence of the department and its prosecution of cases. They're concerned about the erosion of that.
KING: We had a guest on this show, a former Justice Department official, who said with respect to the Roger Stone sentencing, in the end, a judge will make the decision on how much prison time Roger Stone gets - in a sense, is suggesting to me that this is maybe not as serious a problem as we think it is; in the end, it will come down to a judge. What do you think about that?
MCCORD: I agree with that, and I've said that publicly since last week, that in this case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson - she presided over Roger Stone's trial - she is in a perfect position to assess what Mr. Stone did wrong, assess the sentencing guidelines, assess the charges and make a decision about his sentencing. But this is just one more instance of what appears to certainly be Mr. Barr putting his thumb on the scale of justice and interfering. And so this is why I think you're seeing so much concern and so many former prosecutors, you know, want to say something publicly about this.
KING: Were you at all relieved when Attorney General Barr gave that interview to ABC News and said, essentially, I would like the president to stop tweeting - it undermines me? Did that ease any of your concern at all?
MCCORD: I absolutely agree with what he said, and I'm very glad that he said it, and I do think it will put some prosecutors at ease. I do think it's a little bit too little, too late. And I should be clear that, although I know that that statement, you know, calls for Attorney General Barr to resign, I think there's a lot of other important things in his statement. I think most of us don't really think he will resign.
MCCORD: And really, I mean, I'd be happy if he just starts abiding by the rule of law, abiding by DOJ guidance that he should not be putting his thumb - as I mentioned, putting his thumb on the scale of justice based on the president's political wishes.
KING: In the seconds we have left, may I ask - do you think he will stop?
MCCORD: Well, that's a hard judgment to make because there've been so many instances since he took office a year ago. And so I just hope that concern about prosecutors leaving the department and the reputation of the department will encourage him to abide by those long-standing norms.
KING: Former acting assistant attorney general for National Security, Mary McCord. Thank you.
MCCORD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.