“You want to let the legal process to move forward in the way it’s intended to,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune added. “The president weighs in on a lot of things. He tweeted about it. I guess, so, people perceived that as him having weighed in. But in the end, the Justice Department and lawyers over there need to do what they need to do to make sure justice is being served.”
Trump appeared to confirm on Wednesday morning that Barr intervened in Stone’s case, tweeting: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Federal prosecutors initially recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone, a former Trump political adviser who was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation, making false statements to investigators and tampering with witnesses. Hours after the sentencing recommendation was filed, Trump slammed the decision on Twitter as “horrible and very unfair”; and the following morning, the Justice Department overruled the proposal, prompting the four prosecutors to withdraw from the case or resign from the Justice Department altogether.
Democrats have called for Barr to testify about the reversal amid allegations of politically motivated interference from Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to launch an investigation and on Wednesday urged Graham to convene an emergency Judiciary Committee hearing to conduct oversight.
Later Wednesday, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee announced that Barr had agreed to testify on March 31. Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the panel plans to press Barr on the Stone case as well as other recent controversies involving the Justice Department in the aftermath of Trump’s acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment trial.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation was made before Trump registered his displeasure.
Senate Republicans said they trusted U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over Stone’s case, to resolve the issue when she sentences Stone.
“I think the judge is going to take care of all of that. Nobody is going to question the judge’s decision,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
“Whatever the judge feels like you need to do with a 70-year-old guy, I trust her judgment,” Graham added.
“The decision should be made by the judge, and I have confidence in the third branch of our government to act outside the world of politics and to do what is right,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said.
Other Judiciary Committee Republicans said there was no reason to further investigate the matter.
“There was a miscommunication between the frontline prosecutors and their supervisors. You can’t even indict a public figure without talking to upper-levels at Justice,” said Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a Judiciary Committee member.
But Kennedy acknowledged Trump’s tweets “aggravated the situation.”
“I wish he’d tweet less, but that’s not going on happen,” Kennedy said.
Asked about Trump’s comments, Romney said: “I can’t begin to spend time discussing the president’s tweets. That would be a full-time job.”
At least one Republican, though, said it is worth talking with the four prosecutors who stepped down to learn more about the reversal.
“I think we need to ask them and let’s find out,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.
Congressional Democrats have so far struggled to develop a unified response to Trump’s post-impeachment offensive against his political foes, including the firings of two key impeachment witnesses.
Republicans who criticized Trump for trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating his rivals said they hoped the president had learned a lesson from his impeachment. But those same Republicans acknowledged this week that that likely is not the case.
“He seems the same as he did two weeks ago,” quipped Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.