House Judiciary Committee To Hold Hearing On How Politics Influenced The DOJ NPR's David Greene talks to law professor Jonathan Turley about the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department's alleged politicization under Attorney General William Barr.
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House Judiciary Committee To Hold Hearing On How Politics Influenced The DOJ

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House Judiciary Committee To Hold Hearing On How Politics Influenced The DOJ

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House Judiciary Committee To Hold Hearing On How Politics Influenced The DOJ

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So does political pressure influence decision-making at the U.S. Justice Department? Two whistleblowers who will testify today on Capitol Hill say the answer is, yes. One of the two DOJ lawyers says he heard President Trump's longtime political adviser, Roger Stone, got preferential treatment because of his relationship with the president.

A second DOJ attorney intends to tell House lawmakers about his concerns with antitrust investigations launched under Attorney General William Barr. Now, Barr earlier this year told ABC News that part of his job is to make sure that there is no political interference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BARR: I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process, sacrosanct, to make sure there is no political interference in it.

GREENE: And yet, there are these growing doubts about that. Today's hearing comes less than a week after the removal of Geoffrey Berman, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He had investigated and prosecuted several members of President Trump's inner circle. We have Jonathan Turley with us this morning. He is a law professor at George Washington University. And he testified in favor of Bill Barr at the attorney general's confirmation hearing. Jonathan Turley, welcome back. Thanks for taking the time this morning.

JONATHAN TURLEY: Thank you very much.

GREENE: So you have written that Berman's removal as - in the Southern District of New York as U.S. attorney raises legitimate issues for congressional investigators. What is your biggest concern here?

TURLEY: Well, I think that, certainly, the removal was done in a ham-handed way. There are legitimate concerns as to whether the pending Trump-related investigations in any way factored into this decision. We know the president was involved on some level. I think this is a classic example of where congressional inquiry is appropriate. I also think the hearing today is appropriate. We need to resolve these questions. Where I would add in a caveat is on the Berman matter.

It does appear that the account given by Attorney General Bill Barr has been established by the media independently. You know, people like Pete Williams at NBC have said that his sources say that this has nothing to do with the Trump investigations, that, in fact, it was a response to Clayton saying he wanted to go back to New York and this idea that he and Berman might swap positions.

Furthermore, it does appear that Bill Barr didn't really think there was any question about Berman stepping down. He called him to say, we expect you to step down in early July to make this happen. What Berman said he wanted to think about was whether he wanted to accept any of these positions. And it all snowballed out of control...

GREENE: But if it's not about politics - I'm sorry to interrupt. But if it's not about politics - I mean, sure, there was someone, maybe, that the president wanted in that job to replace him - why remove him so quickly? And why not let him finish out his - you know, a bit more time there and then make the change official if this wasn't driven by politics?

TURLEY: Well, Bill Barr actually addressed that in his testimony. He said that as attorney general, the president - he has to yield to the president on any changes to these positions. But what he cannot yield on is any effort to make a change to influence an investigation, an underlying investigation. Now, where I think Congress is going to be inquiring is, where did this idea come from? What were the motivations? There's no reason the Congress should accept these statements. These are important questions that have to be answered.

GREENE: I mean, some important questions, indeed, coming up today as well with these two DOJ lawyers. I mean, it is so rare to have two current DOJ lawyers raising concerns about politics within that department before a congressional hearing. I mean, how is this not emerging as some kind of very troubling pattern?

TURLEY: Well, this is a very rare hearing. And I thought that the testimony, the written testimony, was quite interesting and well-done. I would, however, disagree with some aspects of it, particularly on the Stone case. You know, in the Stone case, many of us questioned that sentencing recommendation when it came out long before any intervention by Main Justice. The prosecutors were seeking a sentence that many of us thought was excessive, up to nine years in prison. And this idea...

GREENE: I mean, I don't want to relitigate the whole Stone case. I mean...

TURLEY: Yeah.

GREENE: And there are lawyers who said that the sentence - you know, to go against the recommendation of people internally was rare. But can I just ask you, what does Bill Barr need to do here to restore confidence in the U.S. Department of Justice? Aren't these - all of these questions being raised alone enough for concern if that department appears like there may be politics involved?

TURLEY: Well, there is clearly an appearance problem. That's reason the Berman matter is legitimate for - a legit matter for investigation. You know, Bill Barr doesn't really worry about the optics. I've known him for 30 years. He spends a lot of time thinking about what's the right thing to do. He doesn't spend as much time on how it will appear. And that does mean that some of these things are mishandled. The decision on Friday night, I - was, in my view, a mistake. Now, as you know, many administrations have done these types of changes on Friday nights. The Obama administration did it.

But it should have occurred to Attorney General Barr that this is not just any other U.S. attorney's office. And the president's irresponsible comments about those investigations make this a very sensitive matter. Now, in his defense, I think that Bill Barr didn't think there was any disagreement about his stepping down. He just thought there was a disagreement as to what - whether Berman wanted one of these positions. But it was done poorly. And that makes it a legitimate question for Congress to pursue.

GREENE: Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law scholar and professor at George Washington University. Thanks so much for coming back on.

TURLEY: Thank you for having me.

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