Teresa Hanafin writes the “Fast Forward” column for the Boston Globe:

 

The biggest story that is still reverberating today isn’t Bernie Sanders’ victory in the New Hampshire primary, or Pete Buttigieg’s close second-place finish, or Amy Klobuchar’sremarkable rise, or the surprising slide of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

No, it’s Trump’s stunning, deliberate, and unprecedented insertion of presidential power, politics, and favoritism into our judicial system.

Look, we all know there’s plenty of injustice in the justice system. Look at the decades-long practice of imposing far harsher sentences on those convicted of using or distributing crack cocaine vs. cocaine in powder form. Those using crack cocaine tended to be Black, while powder cocaine was the preferred drug of white people. What a coincidence!

That’s an example of systemic disparities that many are working to change. (The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the cocaine penalties’ differences.)

Trump used the power of the presidency to put his stubby thumb on the scales of justice to benefit a close ally and longtime friend.

Trump’s demand that the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors for his good buddy Roger Stone be reduced is astonishing enough. But adding to the impropriety was the fact that AG William Barr and top Justice Department officials jumped when Trump interfered, declaring that they would change the prosecutors’ recommendation to a lighter sentence for the president’s friend because, well, that’s what you do when you’re in the tank.

The whole stinking mess caused all four prosecutors to resign from the case — and one quit the Justice Department altogether.

To recap: Stone is a longtime political adviser to Trump, who used him during the 2016 campaign as a conduit to WikiLeaks, which had more than 19,000 e-mails that had been stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. He tried to use Stone to get a heads-up when WikiLeaks was going to release e-mails that were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

It was special counsel Robert Mueller who charged Stone last year. There were seven charges, all felonies: five counts of lying to investigators, one count of obstructing Congress (specifically, the House Intelligence Committee), and one count of tampering with a witness (in both the House inquiry and Mueller’s investigation).

A jury found Stone guilty of all seven charges. As is customary, the probation department then came up with a recommended sentence — 7 to 9 years in prison — and the prosecutors agreed.

They argued that Stone’s conduct was exceptionally egregious because the House and Mueller probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election were critical to our electoral system, and because of the danger to our democracy posed by foreign meddling.

But the bulk of the prison time prosecutors requested was related to Stone’s witness tampering because it involved threats of physical violence to his longtime associate, Randy Credico, after Credico indicated that he would cooperate with the House committee. Stone and Credico both said the threats were jokes, but the jury didn’t believe them.

Stone’s defense attorneys say federal guidelines call for a sentence of 15 to 21 months, and they are asking for probation. Prosecutors say their enhanced sentence request because of the threatened violence is in keeping with federal guidelines. As I’m sure you know, prosecutors often overreach when asking for sentences, and defense attorneys always downplay the offenses.

After Trump’s interference, the Justice Department announced that it would take the rare step of changing its prosecutors’ recommendation. DOJ officials ended up submitting a statement to the judge without a sentence recommendation, but asked her to impose a lighter sentence.

Yes, these are the prosecutors asking the judge to go easy on a convicted felon.

So it’s up to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who could impose a lesser sentence or a harsher sentence. Or she could demand that the Justice Department explain why it changed the original recommendation, and ask the prosecutors who resigned why they did so.

Unsurprisingly, Trump already has attacked Jackson. He also declared that Stone should not have been found guilty — a nice trashing of the system of trial by jury — and should never have even been charged with anything because only Trump’s political opponents are supposed to be investigated and locked up.

Now congressional Democrats are demanding that the DOJ inspector general — who is independent of the department — investigate. House Democrats may also call Barr to Capitol Hill to explain his actions.

Please remember how critical it is to our democracy that justice be administered fairly and independent of influence. Imagine if one of your kids were arrested with a friend for say, drug use, but the parents of your child’s friend were chummy with the mayor, who gets the local prosecutors to drop the charges against that kid. But your kid gets jail time because you’re not buddies with the mayor. Would you shrug your shoulders the way congressional Republicans are?