CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin argued the prosecution’s suggested sentencing period for Roger Stone is excessive in an interview Wednesday on ‘CNN New Day.’
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right. We have a developing story for you this morning. Just moments ago, President Trump congratulated the attorney general, Bill Barr, for intervening in the sentencing of the president’s long- time friend, political adviser, his confidant, Roger Stone. Roger Stone was convicted on several counts of witness tampering, lying to Congress, misleading investigators. So the attorney general intervened and all the prosecutors in the case, as a result, resigned in protest. This is what the president wrote moments ago. I should say in this tweet moments ago, he also made accusations about Robert Mueller, unfounded accusations. Joining us now is CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN Legal Analyst Jim Baker, he is the former General Counsel at the FBI. Jeffrey Toobin, just give us the significance of this move. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are three aspects of this case that are totally unprecedented. One, you have a president injecting himself into a pending case and demanding better treatment of his friend. It hasn’t been done. It wasn’t even done during the Nixon era. That’s one thing. Second, you have the Justice Department jumping to follow the president’s recommendation like within 12 hours. And third, you have four prosecutors resigning in protest, which just doesn’t happen in the Justice Department. You have three of them leaving the case, one of them leaving the Justice Department all together. It is a breakdown of the system that is like nothing I have ever seen in my career and nothing am aware of historically. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Jim, when Jeffrey says that the Justice Department jumped to acquiesce to President Trump’s, you know, demands, is that Bill Barr? Is that the person who is doing this? JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we don’t know. I mean, the president just congratulated him. So one would presume that at least the president thinks that that’s the case, but we don’t know. And this cries out — it cries out for further review from the inspector general, from the judge, who’s going to be sentencing Roger Stone relatively soon here, and also I think from Congress. I mean, the attorney general needs to go up and explain what happened. The attorney general, the deputy attorney general, others, Senate- confirmed officials, need to go up to Congress and explain what happened here. Because as Jeffrey was saying, this is highly, highly unusual. It’s just outside the bounds of anything that I’m familiar with. You know, people in DOJ argue over cases and policy all the time. But the place operates by consensus and people try to work out disputes and arguments. And for this kind of thing to happen is just — it’s — I can’t think of a similar example. BERMAN: And the president is still arguing about the conviction itself. He’s not even arguing about he sentence. The president is suggesting these 12 jurors got it wrong still. And, Jeffrey, why doesn’t the president historically do this type of thing? TOOBIN: Because the power of prosecution is so great, the power of prosecution is to lock people up. I mean, it is sort of the ultimate power that the government had. And there have been norms that have been established over time that say these decisions have to go to people who make these kind of decisions all the time over years over years, that, you know, we don’t change who we lock up based on who’s the president of the United States, based on the political party, much less who is a friend of the person who happens to be president. And that’s the departure here. Now, the one complexity — I mean, there are many complexities of this case, is I’m familiar with these sentencing guidelines and how particularly these kind of cases work. The recommendation struck me as very high as well, seven to nine years. They are part of the guidelines, the probation department which sets the original guidelines and the Justice Department responds to them, apparently agreed with the Justice Department on this. But I can see why people thought this was an excessive sentence. But the way to do that is in front of the judge, not the president of the United States reaching in from the outside telling Justice Department to change their policy. CAMEROTA: Jim, is there any way this morning for people to interpret this, in any other way, than there are a different set of rules for President Trump in his palace than other people who lie to investigators, like to Congress and tamper with witnesses? BAKER: It certainly appears that way, right? And the appearance of how justice system works and how Americans think about it and perceive it is critically important in addition to what actually happened. So we don’t know precisely what happened. People need to review this. I think the judge is the first one who’s going to be able to really get the facts out in front of him when the sentencing actually happens. I would hope that the judge would do that. But the appearance of justice, Department of Justice attorneys talk about that all the time, especially with respect to ethical issues. And you want to make sure that there’s not even an appearance of impropriety. Why, because the system is so critical, as Jeffrey was just saying, I mean, that the prosecutors have so much power, including up to putting people to death, arguing for the death penalty. And so critically important that the system be apolitical and that people have confidence that things are not being done for the wrong reason. And this really undercuts that ethos so substantially that I’m afraid the American people are at risk of losing something that’s so pressure and they may not fully understand it. TOOBIN: And keep an eye on Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is the very independent judge who’s in charge of this case, who very well may say, I’m not going forward on this sentencing until I get an explanation in this courtroom from what the hell happened here, not from, you know, the prosecutor who happens to show up but from the bosses who made the decision. She has the power to demand that. Let’s see if she can do that. BERMAN: So I’m conscious of the fact, the reality that we’re talking about this a few weeks after the president was acquitted and impeached for abuse of power. But what does this episode tell you, Jeffrey, about how the president is willing to use his power? You talked about the norms which have restricted past presidents. What norms? TOOBIN: Well, yes. I remember everybody got very excited when Loretta Lynch had a conversation on the tarmac with Bill Clinton. No one even knows what they talked about. They both said they talked about grandchildren. This is so far past that in terms of political interference in the justice system that you almost can’t compare the two. But what’s at stake here is the independent administration of justice, which is something that Democratic and Republican presidents have honored, certainly since the Nixon era, and in many respects, well before that. BERMAN: I’m wondering at this point that you think it’s still at stake and may not be a past tense.