Barr’s Tough on Crime Approach Only Applies to ‘Those People’

While intervening to get Roger Stone a lighter sentence, he condemned reformist DAs for being soft on crime.

In November, Roger Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness during the Mueller investigation. A discussion ensued among prosecutors about what to recommend at the sentencing hearing.

As Monday’s court deadline neared for the prosecutors to give a sentencing recommendation for Stone, it was still unclear what the office would do, after days of tense internal debates on the subject, according to people familiar with the matter.

Front-line prosecutors, some previously from Mueller’s team, argued for a sentence on the higher end, while their bosses wanted to calculate the guidelines differently to get to a lower prison sentence. The debate centered around whether they should seek more prison time for obstruction that impedes the administration of justice, these people said.

In the end, the office filed a recommendation in keeping with the line prosecutors’ goals, and rejecting the lighter recommendation sought by their superiors, the people said…

In a 22-page filing, prosecutors Jonathan Kravis, Michael J. Marando, Adam C. Jed and Aaron S.J. Zelinksky wrote that a sentence of 87 to 108 months, “consistent with the applicable advisory Guidelines would accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law.”

Donald Trump wasn’t happy.

By Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials were planning to intervene to reduce the sentencing recommendation. Of course, they are claiming that the president’s displeasure had nothing to do with their decision. But in a clear indication that something nefarious is underway, all four of prosecutors who signed the original sentencing recommendation have withdrawn from the case.

What is even more interesting is that the attorney general’s intervention in this matter came on the same day that he made a speech extolling this administration’s commitment to “law and order,” while lambasting reformist prosecutors for being soft on crime.

Another similar problem is the increasing number of district attorneys who have fashioned for themselves a new role of judge-legislator-prosecutor.  These self-styled “social justice” reformers are refusing to enforce entire categories of law, including law against resisting police officers.  In so doing, these DAs are putting everyone in danger.

Their policies are pushing a number of America’s cities back toward a more dangerous past…These DAs think they are helping people, but they end up hurting them.  These policies actually lead to greater criminality…

We have seen these policies before.  They reigned supreme at the state level from the 1960s to the early 1990s.  During this time, violent crime rates tripled in our country.  They peaked in 1991 and 1992.  By that time, the country had had enough.  Following the lead of the policies of the Reagan, H.W. Bush administrations, the states started to make their systems tougher on crime.

I’m sure that Kevin Drum would have a few words for the attorney general about why violent crime peaked and what led to its reduction. He would present the science behind the linkage between crime and lead exposure.

Another problem with Barr’s remarks is that these reformist DAs are actually being smart on crime—something that used to garner bipartisan support.

These left-leaning Democratic district attorneys have sought reforms to the bail system, curbed enforcement of lower-level marijuana offenses, increased the use of diversion programs over jail time and pledged to end mass incarceration. They have also tried changing the culture in their offices, adjusting their prosecutorial priorities to upend a system they believe has contributed to the rise in prison populations. And they’ve vowed to hold police accountable for alleged wrongdoing…

Rachael Rollins was elected district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which includes Boston, in 2018 and is the first woman of color to be elected DA in the state…

“I think people conflate the fact that I want to be smart on crime when it comes to nonviolent, nonserious crimes, with the fact that somehow I’m not going to be hyper-focused on victims and keeping our community safe,” she said. “I am very thoughtful about what we’re doing at our municipal and district courts, but incredibly focused on getting accountability for victims of violent and serious crimes — overwhelmingly that are in poor communities and communities of color in Suffolk County.”

Those are the kind of prosecutors the attorney general is condemning.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Barr’s speech is the hypocrisy he is demonstrating. A friend of the president who has been convicted of serious crimes deserves leniency beyond what the front-line prosecutors recommended. At the same time, reformist DAs who are attempting to be smart on crime are attacked with lies and distortions. It is clear that William Barr’s concept of tough on crime only applies to “those people.”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.