Federal judges' group calls emergency meeting over DOJ handling of Roger Stone case

By Melissa Quinn

/ CBS News

Former DOJ officials call on Barr to resign

Washington — A national organization representing more than 1,100 federal judges has reportedly called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address the recent crisis that has engulfed the Justice Department and led to calls for Attorney General William Barr to resign.

The Federal Judges Association, a voluntary organization of jurists, "could not wait" to discuss the growing concerns over the Justice Department's intervention in a case involving Roger Stone and other politically charged cases, the group's president, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, told USA Today.

"There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about," Rufe, who is based in Philadelphia and was appointed by President George W. Bush, said. 'We'll talk all of this through."

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Between 15 and 20 of the group's officers and members of its executive committee are set to come together via conference call, USA Today reported. Founded in 1982, the association has worked on issues like the compensation of federal judges, the judiciary's budget and legislation impacting the federal courts. The group says its members include the "overwhelming majority" of the nation's federal judges. The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The Justice Department has found itself ensnared in controversy after it intervened last week in the case involving Stone, a longtime informal adviser to President Trump. While federal prosecutors recommended Stone receive between seven and nine years in prison for his November conviction, Barr overruled their recommendation to seek a lighter sentence. Stone's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The move from the Justice Department raised questions of whether it was responding to political pressure from the White House, as Mr. Trump took to Twitter to voice his opposition to the initial sentencing recommendation and has defended Stone before. Barr, however, told ABC News in an interview the president has never asked him "to do anything in a criminal case," and Mr. Trump told reporters last week he didn't discuss Stone's sentencing with the Justice Department.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials, however, have signed an open letter rebuking Barr and urging him to step down from his post in response to his intervention on Stone's case.

In addition to denouncing the initial sentencing recommendation from federal prosecutors, Mr. Trump also targeted the judge presiding over Stone's case and suggested she treated his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, unfairly in his own case before her.

"Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!" the president tweeted about U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Trump's attack on Jackson prompted the D.C. court's chief judge, Beryl Howell, to issue a rare statement defending Jackson.

"The judges of this court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience," Howell said. "Public criticism or pressure is not a factor."

The president has criticized judges for their rulings before, particularly when he loses. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump claimed Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over a case involving the now-defunct Trump University, ruled against him because of the judge's Mexican ancestry.

He also denounced a judge who ruled against his migrant asylum policy in 2018 as an "Obama judge," a description that led Chief Justice John Roberts to issue statement defending the independence of the federal judiciary and refuting Mr. Trump's comment.

First published on February 18, 2020 / 9:41 AM

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