Leahy to Barr: Is Roger Stone sentence commutation ‘a crime’?

Vermont senator had asked attorney general about similar hypothetical during 2019 confirmation hearing

Roger Stone, seen here leaving federal court in February. (Graham MacGillivray/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Roger Stone, seen here leaving federal court in February. (Graham MacGillivray/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 13, 2020 at 4:40pm

Attorney General William Barr said at his confirmation hearing that “it would be a crime” for a president to trade a pardon for a commitment not to incriminate that president.

The senator who asked that question wants to know why that logic does not apply to President Donald Trump’s announcement on Friday that he was commuting the sentence of former Trump campaign associate Roger Stone.

“Do you believe a president can lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont asked during Barr’s January 2019 confirmation hearing.

“No, that would be a crime,” Barr said in response.

Leahy, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the current top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, wants the Justice Department to review what led to the president’s decision.

“Given recently surfaced information indicating that President Trump may have commuted Mr. Stone’s sentence in exchange for his refusal to incriminate the President, pursuant to your own standard, an inquiry by the Justice Department into Mr. Stone’s commutation is clearly warranted,” Leahy wrote in a letter provided first to CQ Roll Call.

While the White House announced the commutation of Stone’s sentence Friday evening, documentation from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department did not appear publicly on Friday.

The federal judge overseeing the Stone case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, on Monday requested the details of the commutation.

It was not immediately clear, even to the court, whether the sentence reduction also applied to two years of supervised release that had already been ordered followed the scheduled 40 month period of incarceration for obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress.

When White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about the specific terms of the grant of clemency on Monday, she did not have a precise answer either.

Leahy’s Monday letter to Barr referenced the determination by the judge that Stone’s criminal convictions were the result of an attempt to cover up for the president.

“This past Friday, Roger Stone seemed to acknowledge as much during an interview, stating that the President ‘knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.’ Hours later that same day, the White House announced that President Trump is commuting Roger Stone’s 40 month prison sentence," Leahy wrote, referring to an interview with Howard Fineman recounted in The Washington Post.

Leahy said that based on Barr’s comments during the confirmation hearing, the Justice Department should look into potential criminal activity related to the granting of the commutation.

Barr had reportedly told Trump that he was not in favor of commuting the sentence for Stone.

“As there appears to be a reasonable, factual indication that criminal activity has occurred, your duty to pursue equal justice under the law requires you to conduct a thorough review of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Stone’s commutation and uncover any evidence suggesting that President Trump issued this commutation in return for Mr.
Stone’s refusal to cooperate with investigators in order to protect the President,” Leahy wrote.

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