The onslaught at the Department of Justice continued Tuesday evening, as President Donald Trump is reportedly withdrawing the nomination of former United States Attorney Jessie Liu to serve as the undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes at the Treasury Department.
According to Axios, Liu’s nomination has been pulled two days before she was scheduled to testify on Thursday morning before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. This is notable because Liu led the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. and oversaw the criminal prosecution of longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone.
The Stone case turned into a flashpoint for serious controversy after the DOJ undercut the original sentencing recommendation of prosecutors formerly under Liu’s watch. Those prosecutors recommended seven to nine years in prison for Stone, but Trump promptly inserted himself into the case and the DOJ ultimately declined to back its own prosecutors. In response to the DOJ’s audacious intrusion into the politically-charged case, all four prosecutors involved in prosecuting Stone withdrew from the case within a matter of hours on Tuesday afternoon.
Liu stepped down from leading the nation’s largest U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. in December after the president announced that she would be nominated for a Treasury role requiring the confirmation of the Senate.
Attorney General William Barr promptly installed Timothy Shea as U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. to replace Liu. Shea was Barr’s former counsel at the DOJ, and this evening it was Shea’s name that appeared on a new sentencing memo for Stone suggesting “far less” time behind bars. Prosecutors reduced the prison recommendation to a range of three to four years. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr.’s name was on the new memo as well. Shea will also be overseeing the controversial Michael Flynn case.
Liu was reportedly under the impression that she would be staying in her position as U.S. attorney at least through Thursday’s hearing (if not her confirmation). Then she was informed that Barr had already selected Shea to replace her.
MORE: Per a source familiar, Liu was expecting to stay in her position as U.S. attorney through at least her hearing if not her confirmation. But then, unexpectedly, was informed that AG Barr was replacing her w Shea. Today, Trump withdrew her nomination. https://t.co/ikeGefjpmh
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) February 12, 2020
Legal and political experts were more than a little suspicious that Liu’s nomination was withdrawn just a couple days before she was scheduled to provide sworn testimony to the Senate–when she absolutely would have been asked about today’s events and/or her old job.
Maybe they didn't want her questioned under oath in the Senate? https://t.co/TJ7m525Om4
— Josh Chafetz (@joshchafetz) February 12, 2020
Former Obama Administration Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General Eric Columbus said the nomination was “clearly” pulled so the Senate wouldn’t have the opportunity to ask her questions while she was under oath.
HOLY SHIT. Her confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday — Trump clearly doesn’t want her to be asked questions about her old job. https://t.co/LB6TjVAsy7
— Eric Columbus (@EricColumbus) February 11, 2020
Chris Lu, the former Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama, said Liu’s withdrawal made an already crazy day even crazier.
“This is getting even crazier,” he wrote. “Now the U.S. attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution seems to be getting punished. And this is happening after she gave up her job to a Barr associate.”
This is getting even crazier. Now the U.S. attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution seems to be getting punished. And this is happening after she gave up her job to a Barr associate. https://t.co/I4avtktx8j
— Chris Lu (@ChrisLu44) February 11, 2020
Washington Post legal reporter Spencer Hsu called the move “remarkable.”
Liu had been personally vetted by prior Trump WH counsel which appointed her to US attorney for DC, after she served on the Trump presidential transition and as a senior Treasury appointee.. This move is remarkable, especially as sources say Liu had no role in Stone's sentencing https://t.co/DQtTZYL69f
— Spencer Hsu (@hsu_spencer) February 12, 2020
Others wondered if this went much deeper than Stone.
Trump has also rescinded the nomination of Jessie Liu, a respected prosecutor who oversaw the investigation of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Did her decision not to prosecute McCabe, who Trump publicly attacked, factor into Trump's decision to rescind her nomination? https://t.co/EgdyW3xdVr
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 12, 2020
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, famously fired by Trump and commenting on the day’s events more broadly, said DOJ leadership doesn’t seem to care about its independence.
The DOJ leadership seems bent on humiliating its own career prosecutors, sacrificing its independence, politicizing justice, and giving special treatment to the President’s criminal associates. The worst part is they don’t seem even to care anymore.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) February 12, 2020
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]