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.
Legal and political experts were more than a little suspicious that Liu’s nomination was withdrawn just a couple days before she was scheduled to provide sworn testimony to the Senate–when she absolutely would have been asked about today’s events and/or her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.
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.
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.”
Washington Post legal reporter Spencer Hsu called the move “remarkable.”
Others wondered if this went much deeper than Stone.
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.
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
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