OPINION: Trump and the Pursuit of Saving Stone


Stephen C. Leverton II, Opinion Writer

President Donald Trump’s politicization of the Department of Justice is tyrannical and unprecedented. Early Feb. 12, Trump tweeted “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” referring to the ongoing case involving one of the President’s allies, Roger Stone. Trump said during a White House press conference Feb. 12 that he has “the absolute right to do it.”
Trump proves time again that he’s in it for himself. Suggesting to host the 2020 G7 summit at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago to profiting off taxpayers by staying in his own hotels while traveling from Las Vegas to Ireland. Using the DOJ to his advantage is no exception. The DOJ was created to be impartial, like the Supreme Court. By politicizing the Justice Department, Trump can impact any court decision.
The president also aims to assist his allies, including those currently in trial. Roger Stone — a Trump ally convicted of witness tampering, false statements and obstruction of justice — was recommended by prosecutors for up to nine years in prison, according to the New York Times. After Trump’s intervention, Stone’s final sentence was decided on Feb. 20: he would serve just 40 months in jail. The sheer fact that a president can pressure a court’s sentencing decision shows he rules with an iron fist. It’s either his way or the high way.
Trump is setting a dangerous precedent by expanding the definition of executive privilege to include “the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Country,” intervening in federal court cases that negatively affect the president. The last president who claimed executive privilege was Richard Nixon. Nixon claimed he could withhold communication information from Congress and the American people. Like Nixon, Trump is focused on protecting his best interests with his expanded definition of executive privilege, setting the precedent that this behavior is presidential.
Both federal and state cases can be affected, including cases such as North Carolina’s infamous HB2 bill the Bathroom Bill passed in 2016. Should the state courts determine this statute’s constitutionality, Trump’s use of intervention would encourage future presidents to intervene.
History paints presidents negatively when they tamper with the judicial system. Andrew Jackson blatantly ignored Worcester v. Georgia (1832), a Supreme Court case that determined states don’t have the power to regulate Native Americans. Richard Nixon ignored Congress when asked to release information pertaining to Watergate. Now, Trump is pressuring Barr into warping a DOJ decision. Like Jackson, Trump establishes a precedent that encourages this behavior. He believes he has the power to bend the courts at his will, and if not kept in check, Trump will send the country down a route it can never return from.