A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday.
Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.
“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe told USA TODAY. “We’ll talk all of this through.”
Rufe, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors' initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them.
Trump also took a swipe at the federal judge who is set to preside at Stone’s sentencing hearing Thursday.
"Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted last week, referring to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!"
Jackson jailed Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, prior to his convictions in two separate financial fraud cases after he sought to tamper with potential witnesses.
Rufe said the judges' association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but she voiced strong support for Jackson.
“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” Rufe said, praising Jackson's reputation. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.”
The unusual concern voiced by the judges’ group comes in the wake of an equally unusual protest. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials called on Barr to resign Sunday, claiming his handling of the Stone case "openly and repeatedly flouted" the principle of equal justice.
If the FJA decides to call for Barr's resignation, things could potentially get ugly, but I don't think they will. Remember, Mitch McConnell's assembly line of scores of judicial confirmations mean Trump has appointed nearly a quarter of all currently-serving federal judges in just 3 years, and that has to include a healthy percentage of the FJA's membership.
Frankly, I don't expect a single Trump-appointed judge to raise a finger, either so best-case scenario out of this is a mealy-mouthed position of "deep concern" (heaven forfend!) voiced in a heavily watered down statement that Barr will wipe Trump's ass with before chucking it in a gold-plated toilet.
I'd like to think this would lead to Barr's imminent resignation, but even if that somehow miraculously happens, McConnell will make sure Trump has an even worse AG confirmed within weeks, and the new AG won't be shy about locking Democrats up, either.
Most likey, Barr will respond defiantly and nothing will happen.