WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorney General Bill Barr will face questions from lawmakers in a much anticipated hearing in March, finally giving Democrats a chance to publicly and formally pore over their concerns that the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is misusing his power to give President Donald Trump political cover.
In a letter released Wednesday confirming that Barr agreed to attend a March 31 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, chairman Jerry Nadler cited how in just the last week, events unfolding within the Justice Department triggered “grave concerns” for members of Congress.
On the list, was the Department’s decision this week to overrule a seven- to nine-year sentencing recommendation offered by attorneys prosecuting Roger Stone, a Trump stalwart, ally and former GOP mega-donor who was convicted in November of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction. Prosecutors argued Stone’s criminality all circled back to his motives to protect Trump from judicial or congressional oversight.
President Trump lashed out on Twitter when news of Stone’s sentencing first surfaced. Within hours of the president’s complaints, the Justice Department revised its recommendation for Stone to probation only, citing his age – he is 67 – and his lack of criminal history.
The request for a sentencing reduction is only part of the curious picture Nadler wants to probe.
It was also the waterfall of resignations and withdrawals of prosecutors working the Stone case that set curiosities aflame.
On Tuesday, the four federal prosecutors who attained Stone’s conviction withdrew from the case altogether. Aaron Zelinksy, who also worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, notified the court that not only would he remove himself from Stone’s case, but that he would immediately step down from his special assignment role to the U.S attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.
After Zelinsky, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis tendered his resignation from the Stone case first and then from the Justice Department altogether. Then, another set of departures by Stone prosecutors followed: this time, Adam Jed and Michael Marando. Both opted to stay on with the Justice Department.
Also on Tuesday, Trump abruptly yanked the nomination of Jessie Liu for the role of undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes at the U.S. Treasury Department.
Liu was nominated to the post in December but before that oversaw the prosecutions of other Trump associates besides Stone including his former deputy campaign adviser Rick Gates and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Barr’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31 presents Democrats with a chance to press him publicly about Trump’s engagement with Ukraine.
In Wednesday’s letter, Chairman Nadler noted that the attorney general can also expect questions about a so-called “intake process” Barr has abided with the president’s personal attorney and fixer Rudy Giuliani.
During a CBS News Face the Nation interview on Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – who has offered little else than a full-throated defense of Trump at every turn – told hosts that Barr informed him a special intake process for Giuliani’s information did exist and when that info was received, the DOJ would then go about verifying it.
Barr later confirmed Graham’s account at an unrelated press conference 24 hours later.
“That is true for all information that comes to the department relating to Ukraine, including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide,” Barr said Monday.
But this statement directly conflicts with what Barr told Congress in September.
At that time, the attorney general said no one at the department was asked by President Trump to contact Ukraine. Further, Barr said that he never directly discussed anything related to Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani.
“These are not the only issues that our Committee intends to discuss with you when you appear but they are enough to require our immediate attention,” the chairman’s letter states.
The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
On the same day Barr is set to go under the microscope at the U.S. Capitol, just across the street at the Supreme Court justices will hear landmark arguments related to separation of powers.
In a consolidated session, justices will weigh arguments on subpoenas issued to accounting firm Mazars USA by Manhattan prosecutors seeking Trump’s tax returns from 2011 to 2018.
The House Oversight, Financial Services and Intelligence Committees respectively will also have their arguments presented as justices consider their request for Trump’s financial records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.