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President Trump has made the U.S. Justice Department one of his most frequent targets. This is despite the fact that Attorney General Bill Barr has largely carried out the White House's policy agenda and even intervened in cases to help the president's friends. Well, now a member of special counsel Robert Mueller's team is speaking out about this. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has his story.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Over two decades at the Justice Department, Andrew Weissmann made his name prosecuting mobsters and corporate kingpins. But it's his last assignment that prompted him to break his silence.
ANDREW WEISSMANN: I worked in the Justice Department for over 21 years under Republican and Democratic administrations, and seeing the rule of law be really trashed by the attorney general is soul crushing.
JOHNSON: Many of the people brought to justice by Weissmann and his colleagues on special counsel Robert Mueller's team were convicted, then freed. President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, won early release from prison near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though he did not fit the Justice Department's own criteria. Trump's friend, Roger Stone, got a break at his sentencing, then got his sentence commuted by the White House. Now Weissmann says he's watching for the president to take more action after the election.
WEISSMANN: I suspect strongly that if the president does not win reelection, that he is going to pardon a lot more people related to the Trump organization, his family, people who work there and even himself. That's never obviously been done. A president has never pardoned himself.
JOHNSON: Curtailing a future president's power to pardon himself is just one of the ways experts want to overhaul the justice system for a president who would try to inject politics into the DOJ. In a new book, Weissmann describes the frustrations he encountered while investigating a president constantly threatening to fire him. He says Congress and the next administration need to think about ways to strengthen the special counsel system, for one thing, making it clear lawmakers can access the evidence investigators gather.
WEISSMANN: Even today, Congress does not have our underlying evidence, and there's litigation over that.
JOHNSON: Next, he says, is a change to make the special counsel report public. Weissmann says people expected to read a clear set of findings from the Mueller team, but it took weeks for the full report to emerge and only after Attorney General Bill Barr issued a misleading summary.
WEISSMANN: I think that the big-picture problem is that the current special counsel rules really have the audience for our report being the attorney general in a private report that no one sees.
JOHNSON: Weissmann says Congress should be able to trigger the appointment of a special counsel, not just the attorney general. And he says persistent attacks by Russia on American elections require a major response. He says the Justice and Homeland Security Departments need to create permanent teams focused on election security.
WEISSMANN: So that those people are not doing it part time. They are dedicated career people to making sure that they are looking for ways to detect and prevent election interference.
JOHNSON: And speaking of career people, Weissmann says he's stunned by the number of prosecutors who walked out the door in protest these last three years.
WEISSMANN: Carrie, I can't tell you how unusual that is. Again, I've been in the department for 21 years. I have never seen that.
JOHNSON: He thinks a new attorney general who's committed to transparency can help restore public confidence at Justice. But he says that won't be quick or easy. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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