Not since the Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973, when President Richard Nixon fired the top echelon of the Justice Department after they refused to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, has Washington seen anything resembling the events this week involving the sentencing of Trump’s crony Roger Stone. Attorney General Barr and his deputy entered the fray challenging the sentencing recommendation made by the four DOJ lawyers who had prosecuted the Government’s case against Stone. This almost unprecedent action resulted in all of the attorneys removing themselves from the case and/or resigning from the Department.
In their recommendation, the team of Government prosecutors had followed the Justice Department’s own sentencing guidelines in recommending that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years. The only explanation —underscored by all of President Trump’s tweeting attack on the lawyers and the judge—was that once again Barr was permitting politics and the President’s disregard of law to guide his management of the Justice Department. The resignation of the prosecuting attorneys, who all had sterling records in the DOJ, adds additional fuel to the continuing evidence that Trump as well as Barr are indifferent and unconcerned about the rule of law and the efficacy of America’s legal system.
There is now serious concern as to how far President Trump is prepared to go in his “take no prisoners” style of leadership of the United States. His search for retribution against all those who testified against him in the impeachment trial had begun already when the President entered the battle to seek leniency for his personal confidant, Roger Stone.
On Friday, Trump fired Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council as well his twin brother who was also serving in the White House—who had not even testified but presumably Trump saw him as a collaborator by associating with his brother—as well as his firing E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, are only the beginning of the Trump purge. There is probably a further group of NSC, Defense Department, and State Department firings ahead as the President cleans house of those who responded to Congressional subpoenas and appeared before Congress. Replacing these officials and the others who leave or are fired could become very challenging for the President given the level of loyalty he is demanding.
There is no doubt that there will be a major White House eruption when former National Security Advisor, John Bolton’s, book is cleared of possible classified information and is released in March, and/or if he testifies now before the House. Either event, however, will not generate many surprises, except to spike Bolton’s book sales.
Meanwhile the Democrats will be continuing on for several weeks or even months with their primaries and caucuses without a clear nominee; thus, giving the President considerable room to monopolize the national discussion. Trump’s sending Rudy Giuliani on his Ukrainian mission to unmask dirt about Vice President Biden and his son, may eventually turn out to be an even bigger fool’s mission than was depicted. Should Biden fail to turn his campaign around, the entire escapade will have been for naught. This further embarrassing resolution will not upset his base. It is clear, as well, that after the President was acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial, there is no chance that he will receive any push back at all from Republicans; only the Democrats will continue to challenge him.
The events, therefore, surrounding the Stone sentencing are so frightening. While presidential pardons for all of Trump’s friends are expected, new challenges to the rule of law as well forthcoming broadside presidential firings are what is challenging to the viability of American democracy.