- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2020

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday demanded that the Justice Department turn over documents and make more than a dozen officials available for interviews as it starts an investigation into allegations of political interference in cases of personal interest to President Trump.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, sent a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr detailing a list of Justice Department actions he called “deeply troubling.” The list included the department overruling federal prosecutors’ recommended sentence for Trump confidante Roger Stone, opening investigations into officials involved in the Russia probe and intervening to relocate former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort out of Rikers Island jail in New York.

“The Judiciary Committee needs to examine a range of recent actions that smack of political interference,” Mr. Nadler wrote in a letter to Mr. Barr.

It is not clear if the Justice Department will cooperate with the probe. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, slammed the request.

He said Mr. Nadler is pushing for a high-profile investigation to distract from the committee’s failure to agree on meaningful changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The Judiciary Committee had scheduled a markup to debate changes to FISA as three key provisions are set to expire on March 14. However, Mr. Nadler abruptly canceled the markup amid criticism from both Democrats and Republicans that his proposed mild tweaks to the FISA process don’t go far enough to protect civil liberties.

“The Democrats’ request today is yet another attempt to distract from the job that they’ve failed to do, which is reform FISA and finally address the abuse that has plagued our nation over the last three years,” said Mr. Collins of Georgia.

“The fact that Democrats sent these requests just two days after canceling our FISA markup and putting our national security at risk is further proof they care about one thing and one thing only: attempting to take down President Trump.”

Mr. Nadler has requested documents, a briefing on the cases and interviews with 15 current or former Justice Department officials involved in those matters, including the four prosecutors who resigned from the Stone case in protest of department intervention.

Among the documents requested by the panel are communications between Mr. Trump and the Justice Department. It is unlikely the committee will get those documents since they are shielded by the president’s executive privilege.

The committee also has requested documents related to whether Mr. Trump has used the department’s Antitrust Division to advance his personal interests. Mr. Nadler cited the department’s opposition to the Time Warner-AT&T merger, saying it was influenced by Mr. Trump’s animosity toward CNN, which Time Warner owns.

Mr. Nadler also wants to review the Justice Department’s legal opinion that an anonymous whistleblower complaint about Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president should not be turned over to Congress. That complaint sparked the Democrats’ impeachment fervor, but the president was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Mr. Nadler is requesting the documents ahead of Mr. Barr’s scheduled testimony before the panel on March 31. It will be the first time Mr. Barr has appeared before the Judiciary Committee since becoming attorney general last year.

The attorney general was scheduled to appear before the committee last year to discuss special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. He balked when Democrats diverted from the rules and insisted that committee staffers question Mr. Barr.

“Although you serve at the president’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws,” Mr. Nadler wrote Friday. “In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”

Mr. Nadler appears most interested in the Stone case.

Stone, a longtime Trump ally and unofficial campaign adviser, was convicted in November on charges of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional probe into Russian election meddling.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had recommended Stone receive up to nine years in prison.

However, top Justice Department officials, including Mr. Barr, stepped in to override the request, asking for a more lenient sentence. The news of the department’s actions came hours after Mr. Trump’s remarks on Twitter blasting the judge and prosecutors for the harsh sentence.

Mr. Barr gave a rare public rebuke of the president in an ABC News interview, saying the president’s tweets make it “impossible” to his job. But he also said his department was bullied by Mr. Trump into recommending a lighter sentence for Stone.

Stone was sentenced this month to three years and four months in prison. He is fighting the sentence with a request for a new trial.

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