Political Trials Should Be Tried Outside of the Beltway

Attorney General William Barr is enlisting U.S. attorneys outside the Beltway either to investigate or review several high-level cases related to President Trump, the Washington Post reported over the weekend. Barr has asked federal prosecutors from “far-flung offices,” as the Post described it, located in remote places such as Connecticut and Chicago, to handle these sensitive matters.

Barr’s legal shuffling of the deck includes the egregious prosecution of Lt. General Michael Flynn; the investigation into Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign; and new material collected by Rudy Giuliani detailing alleged corruption in Ukraine possibly tied to U.S. politicians.

Given the accusations from Trump foes that Barr is doing Trump’s bidding from his corner office at the Justice Department, this otherwise rational move prompted convulsions of panic in the nation’s capital. Some distraught observers grimly warn that transferring politically charged cases out of the most politically obsessed town in the world is just what Joseph Stalin would do.

David Laufman, a former Justice Department official and Obama donor involved in the agency’s 2016 exoneration of Hillary Clinton, claimed he was “baffled” as to why any federal lawyer would accept such an assignment. “‘Why would they be associating themselves with investigations that are evocative of the manner in which repressive regimes throughout history have behaved?’” Laufman told Post reporters.

But despite absurd comparisons from Laufman and his Trump-loathing colleagues, it’s clear that any case associated with the president, his allies, or his foes must be handled outside of Washington. After Barr’s office declined to prosecute Andrew McCabe—the former deputy director of the FBI and key player in the agency’s corrupt pursuit of Donald Trump—for lying to federal agents, some speculated that the trial’s locale would’ve given McCabe a significant advantage.

“When the District of Columbia is the venue for any prosecution with political overtones, Justice Department charging decisions must factor in the jury pool, which is solidly anti-Trump,” observed former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy.

Accurate. Hillary Clinton won 90 percent of the D.C. vote in 2016 compared to Donald Trump’s four percent. In the metropolitan area as a whole, which includes adjacent counties in Virginia and Maryland, Clinton won 68 percent. The federal government is the area’s largest employer; nearly everyone else is somehow tied to government work as a lawyer, lobbyist, consultant, or journalist. By a 20-to-1 margin, Justice Department employees contributed heavily to Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Any trial automatically is rigged either in favor or against a political defendant based on the team for which the accused plays—and if it’s Team Trump, the outcome is predetermined even before the opening statements. After all, how could a swamp-dweller objectively judge a case tied to a president promising to drain the swamp?

The jury selection for the 2019 trial of Greg Craig illustrated the near-impossibility of seating an impartial panel in Washington.

Caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation, Craig, a former counsel for two Democratic presidents and a longtime power broker, was charged with making false statements to the special counsel about his work in Ukraine. The prospective jury pool ensnared a Whos-Who of D.C. glitterati including Clinton White House officials, reporters, and government contractors.

Josh Gerstein, a reporter covering the trial for Politico, wrote that the process “turned up a variety of political allegiances, personal connections and employment that could be problematic.” But jurors with obvious conflicts, nonetheless, were added to the jury.

After Craig was acquitted last September, one juror expressed outrage that Mueller wasted time on Craig’s case “while the republic itself is under assault.” That is #TheResistance code for Orange Man Bad.

Michael Flynn’s plea arrangement has been tainted from the start. A few days after Trump’s former national security advisor pleaded guilty to making a false statement, Rudolph Contreras, the federal judge who signed off on the deal, suddenly recused himself. Texts later revealed that Contreras is friends with Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who ambushed Flynn shortly after Trump was sworn in. Contreras also sits on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorized the unlawful warrants to spy on Carter Page. (The judge who replaced Contreras later claimed that Flynn, a three-star general, “sold out” his country and wondered aloud why he hadn’t been charged with treason. Judge Emmet Sullivan apologized for the insult.)

Barr has assigned a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis to review the department’s handling of the Flynn matter. Flynn last month moved to withdraw his guilty plea based on “the government’s bad faith, vindictiveness, and breach of the plea agreement,” according to a lengthy filing by his new lawyer, Sidney Powell.

Four lawyers from the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. quit the case against Roger Stone last week after Barr overrode their excessive sentencing recommendation, which would have imprisoned Stone, a first-time offender found guilty of seven nonviolent crimes, under a sentence equivalent to one given for armed robbery.

But that opened a can of worms not just for Barr but for the government’s case. A telephone hearing with both parties is scheduled for Tuesday morning with Judge Amy Berman Jackson. (Stone’s lawyer filed a motion last week to demand a new trial; Jackson rejected a similar plea in 2019.)

The fiasco over Stone’s sentence prompted revelations about the partisan bias of the jury’s foreman. Tomeka Hart’s social media posts displayed contempt for the president, his supporters, and Republicans; she also may have misled Jackson during the jury selection process about her objectivity, according to a document published by Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller. Hart ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2012.

Meanwhile, as Barr reroutes legal hot potatoes out of the Beltway, his detractors are getting desperate.

A nonprofit backed by a left-wing tech billionaire and sworn enemy of Donald Trump organized another publicity stunt aimed at taking down the embattled attorney general. Protect Democracy, an activist group funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, gathered signatures from more than 1,000 Justice Department “alumni” to accuse Barr of posing a threat to democracy. The letter warned that Barr’s “behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law.”

But, of course, that is totally and provably false. Andrew McCabe and Mike Flynn were not treated equally before the law. Same for Hillary Clinton. Ditto for James Comey. (The Justice Department declined to prosecute Comey for stealing and sharing his own classified memos from the FBI.)

Justice still awaits government officials who illegally leaked classified information to the media to defame Michael Flynn and Carter Page three years ago. The signers of unlawful FISA applications, including Comey and McCabe, have thus far escaped the “fair administration” of the law while their victim, Page, must live with the consequences of their malfeasance.

No, the only people who have paid a price are associates of Donald Trump. The justice system situated in our nation’s capital is toxic, destructive, and demonstrably unfair.

Barr should move any trial out of Washington—West Virginia or North Carolina, perhaps?—and at least give the accused a fighting chance. Contrary to what Barr’s detractors insist, that’s the only way to legitimately execute impartial justice and restore the rule of law.

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