After attacking the prosecutors and judge in the trial of his longtime adviser Roger Stone, President Donald Trump on Thursday turned his sights on the jury that convicted the veteran Republican operative, elevating concerns about political interference in the U.S. judicial process.
Trump referred in a Twitter post to a Fox News story that accused some of the jurors in the case of political bias. “This is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department,” Trump wrote.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s comments on the Stone case have amounted to interference in the workings of the U.S. government’s judicial branch.
“This is an abuse of power – that the president is again trying to manipulate federal law enforcement to serve his political interest,” Pelosi, a Democrat, told a news conference. “This is not what America is about. It is so wrong.”
Trump on Tuesday criticized U.S. prosecutors who recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone in connection with his conviction in a case stemming from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation detailing Russian interference in the 2016 election to benefit Trump’s candidacy.
The Republican president called their sentencing recommendation for Stone, whose friendship with Trump dates back decades, “horrible” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
Hours later, the Justice Department abandoned the recommendation, prompting all four prosecutors to quit the case. One left the department altogether.
In addition, former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, who oversaw the Stone case, resigned this week after the White House rescinded her nomination to a Treasury Department post, a source confirmed to Reuters on Thursday.
Trump on Wednesday thanked Attorney General William Barr, a political loyalist he appointed last year, for “taking charge” of the case. He also tweeted criticism of U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is scheduled to sentence Stone on Feb. 20.
“This is the commander-in-chief, this is the top law enforcement officer, and he’s got a right to his opinion,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told Fox News.
Trump has said he has not had direct talks with the Justice Department on the matter. The Justice Department has also said it did not confer with the White House, with one senior official on Tuesday calling the timing of Trump’s tweet “an inconvenient coincidence.”
Grant Smith, one of Stone’s defense lawyers, told Reuters that the defense team is examining social media posts, including one by the jury forewoman. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani also called for an investigation into the jury forewoman, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Early on in the jury selection process, Stone’s lawyers were overruled by Jackson when they tried to strike prospective jurors who worked for the government or who had opinions about Trump. Some of the people Stone’s defense expressed concerns about, including a former White House official from former President Barack Obama’s administration, did not make the final cut on the jury, made up of 12 people and two alternates.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican and Trump defender, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that he hoped the court would take the jury allegations seriously if the report was accurate, calling it “not fair.”
Justice Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Barr is due to testify before a House panel next month.
‘A RED FLAG’
Stone was found guilty in November on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. He was one of several close Trump associates charged in Mueller’s probe, which Trump called a “witch hunt.”
All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday called on Graham to investigate concerns of interference.
“The decision to overrule career prosecutors to favor one of the President’s associates is shocking and unprecedented,” they wrote in a letter. “This is a red flag.”
Republicans in Congress have largely shrugged off the furor.
Senator Chuck Grassley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and also chairs the Finance Committee, told Reuters: “I’ll leave it up to a judge to decide whether a juror is biased or not.”
Stone’s supporters are pushing for a presidential pardon, which Trump has declined to comment on.
Trump was acquitted in the Republican-led Senate last week on impeachment charges brought by the Democratic-led House accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.