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Column

In defense of William Barr and Roger Stone

(Editor’s note: William Cooper is an attorney and columnist who has written for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and USA Today.)

All criminal defendants are entitled to the basic protections of criminal procedure and due process and should not be subject to excessive punishment.

This includes Roger Stone.

In February, the Justice Department withdrew its nine-year sentencing recommendation for Stone after President Trump criticized it in a tweet. This created quite a stir in Washington and the media, with many outraged by the DOJ’s intervention.

Yesterday, during Attorney General William Barr’s visit to the House Judiciary Committee, it was clear that Democrats are still rankled. In response to accusations of favoritism towards a Trump associate, Barr explained why he lowered the recommendation. “The line prosecutors were trying to advocate for a sentence that was more than twice what anyone else in a similar position had ever served, and this is a 67-year-old man, first-time offender and no violence,” he said. “I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people.”

Exactly. Equal justice requires that all people -- whether Trump friend or foe -- are treated the same under the law.

Indeed, Mr. Stone is a 67-year-old man who might not survive nine years in prison. The prosecutors’ recommended sentence is thus the rough equivalent of seeking the death penalty. The investigation into Russia which led to Mr. Stone’s prosecution was started under problematic conditions that included law-enforcement officials making material misrepresentations to the FISA court. After a yearslong investigation into Mr. Stone by the Mueller team, none of the allegations that he colluded with Russia proved to be true.

After investigators determined that Mr. Stone did not commit any of the alleged underlying crimes, but instead may have obstructed legal proceedings and tampered with a witness, a large team of armed law enforcement officials went to Mr. Stone’s house – along with CNN cameras – and arrested him and took him to jail. One of the lead prosecutors involved in the investigation is Andrew Weissman, an openHillary Clinton supporter in 2016 who is now an MSNBC analyst and harsh critic of the Trump administration.

Mr. Stone was eventually convicted of committing these crimes – seven counts in all. It was the first time he was ever convicted for violating the law.

This background is brushed aside by those incensed -- still -- that Barr would withdraw the sentencing recommendation after Trump’s tweets.

Yes – as Barr has correctly explained – Trump should abstain from interfering with or publicly weighing in regarding the particulars of any criminal case, including this one. And this is important. But the Justice Department changing the nine-year sentencing recommendation – under these background circumstances – is a humane approach to law enforcement. Notwithstanding Trump’s improper tweets (and the long-lasting anger of Barr’s critics) it was the right thing to do.

The judge, who later sentenced Stone to just over three years, agrees.

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