The Slow Firing of Robert Mueller[‘s Replacement]

On December 5, I suggested that Speaker Pelosi delay the full House vote on impeachment until early February. I intimated there were public reasons — the possibility of a ruling on the Don McGahn subpoena and superseding charges for Lev Parnas — I thought so and private ones. One of the ones I did not share was the Stone sentencing, which at that point was scheduled for February 6. Had Pelosi listened to me (!!!) and had events proceeded as scheduled, Stone would have been sentenced before the final vote on Trump’s impeachment.

But things didn’t work out that way. Not only didn’t Pelosi heed my suggestion (unsurprisingly), but two things happened in the interim.

First, Stone invented a bullshit reason for delay on December 19, the day after the full House voted on impeachment. The prosecutors who all resigned from the case yesterday objected to the delay, to no avail, which is how sentencing got scheduled for February 20 rather than the day after the Senate voted to acquit.

Then, on January 6, Trump nominated Jessie Liu, then the US Attorney for DC, to be Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, basically the person who oversees the process of tracking criminal flows of finance. She won’t get that position — her nomination was pulled yesterday in advance of a Thursday confirmation hearing. But her nomination gave Barr the excuse to install a trusted aide, Timothy Shea, at US Attorney for DC last Thursday, the day after the impeachment vote and in advance of the now-delayed Stone sentencing.

Liu, who is very conservative and a true Trump supporter, had been nominated for a more obvious promotion before. On March 5, Trump nominated her to be Associate Attorney General, the number 3 ranking person at DOJ. But then she pulled her nomination on March 28 because Senators objected to her views on choice.

But let’s go back, to late August 2018. Michael Cohen and Sam Patten had just pled guilty, and Cohen was trying to find a way to sort of cooperate. Rudy Giuliani was talking about how Robert Mueller would need to shut down his investigation starting on September 1, because of the election. I wrote a post noting that, while Randy Credico’s imminent grand jury appearance suggested Mueller might be close to finishing an indictment of Stone, they still had to wait for Andrew Miller’s testimony.

Even as a I wrote it, Jay Sekulow was reaching out to Jerome Corsi to include him in the Joint Defense Agreement.

During the entire election season, both Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi were stalling, lying to prosecutors while reporting back to Trump what they were doing.

Then, the day after the election, Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matt Whitaker. Whitaker, not Rosenstein, became the nominal supervisor of the Mueller investigation. Not long after, both Manafort and Corsi made their game clear. They hadn’t been cooperating, they had been stalling to get past the time when Trump could start the process of ending the Mueller investigation.

But Whitaker only reactively kept Mueller in check. After Michael Cohen’s December sentencing made it clear that Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to cheat to win, Whitaker started policing any statement that implicated Trump. By the time Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019 — after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr — Mueller no longer noted when Trump was personally involved, as he was in Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

But then, when Barr came in, everything started to shut down. Mueller moved ongoing prosecutions to other offices, largely to DC, under Jessie Liu’s supervision. As Barr came to understand where the investigation might head, he tried to promote Liu out of that position, only to have GOP ideology prevent it.

Barr successfully dampened the impeach of the Mueller Report, pretending that it didn’t provide clear basis for impeaching the President. It was immediately clear, when he did that, that Barr was spinning the Stone charges to minimize the damage on Trump. But Barr did not remove Mueller right away, and the Special Counsel remained up until literally the moment when he secured Andrew Miller’s testimony on May 29.

The next day, I noted the import of raising the stakes for Trump on any Roger Stone pardon, because Stone implicated him personally. That was more important, I argued, than impeaching Trump for past actions to try to fire Mueller, which Democrats were focused on with their attempt to obtain Don McGahn’s testimony.

Still, those ongoing investigations continued under Jessie Liu, and Stone inched along towards trial, even as Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars to try to establish an excuse to pardon Manafort (and, possibly, to pay off the debts Manafort incurred during the 2016 election). As Stone’s trial laid out evidence that the President was personally involved in optimizing the release of emails Russia had stolen from Trump’s opponent, attention was instead focused on impeachment, his more recent effort to cheat.

In Stone’s trial, he invented a new lie: both Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi had falsely led him to believe they had a tie to WikiLeaks. That didn’t help Stone avoid conviction: Stone was found guilty on all counts. But it gave Stone yet another cover story to avoid revealing what his ties to WikiLeaks actually were and what he did — probably with Trump’s assent — to get it. For some reason, prosecutors decided not to reveal what they were otherwise prepared to: what Stone had really done.

Immediately after his conviction, Stone spent the weekend lobbying for a pardon. His wife appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and someone got inside White House gates to make the case.

But, as impeachment proceeded, nothing happened, as the Probation Office started collecting information to argue that Stone should go to prison for a long while. The day Democrats finished their case against Donald Trump, though, Bill Barr made his move, replacing Liu before she was confirmed, removing a very conservative Senate confirmed US Attorney to install his flunkie, Timothy Shea. But even that wasn’t enough. Prosecutors successfully convinced Shea that they should stick to the probation office guidelines recommending a stiff sentence. When Timothy Shea didn’t do what Barr expected him to, Barr intervened and very publicly ordered up the cover up he had promised.

Effectively, Bill Barr is micro-managing the DC US Attorney’s office now, overseeing the sentencing of the man who could explain just how involved Trump was in the effort to maximize the advantage Trump got from Russia’s interference in 2016, as well as all the other prosecutions that we don’t know about.

Trump has, finally, succeeded in firing the person who oversaw the investigations into his role in the Russian operation in 2016. Just as Stone was about to have reason to explain what that role was.


August 21, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty

August 31, 2018: Sam Patten pleads guilty

September 5, 2018: Jay Sekulow reaches out to Corsi lawyer to enter into Joint Defense Agreement

September 6, 2018: In first Mueller interview, Corsi lies

September 17, 2018: In second interview, Corsi invents story about how he learned of Podesta emails

September 21, 2018: In third interview, Corsi confesses to establishing a cover story about Podesta’s emails with Roger Stone starting on August 30, 2016; NYT publishes irresponsible story that almost leads to Rod Rosenstein’s firing

October 25, 2018: Rick Gates interviewed about the campaign knowledge of Podesta emails

October 26, 2018: Steve Bannon admits he spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks

October 31, 2018: Prosecutors probably show Corsi evidence proving he lied about source of knowledge on Podesta emails

November 1 and 2, 2018: Corsi continues to spew bullshit in interviews

November 6, 2018: Election day

November 7, 2018: Jeff Sessions is fired; Matt Whitaker named Acting Attorney General

November 9, 2018: Corsi appears before grand jury but gives a false story about how he learned of Podesta emails; Mueller threatens to charge him with perjury

November 15, 2018: Trump tweets bullshit about Corsi’s testimony being coerced

November 23, 2018: Corsi tells the world he is in plea negotiations

November 26, 2018: Corsi rejects plea

December 7, 2018: Trump nominates Bill Barr Attorney General

January 18, 2019: Steve Bannon testifies to the grand jury (and for the first time enters into a proffer)

January 24, 2019: Roger Stone indicted for covering up what really happened with WikiLeaks

February 14, 2019: Bill Barr confirmed as Attorney General

March 5, 2019: Jessie Liu nominated to AAG; Bill Barr briefed on Mueller investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller announces the end of his investigation

March 24, 2019: Bill Barr releases totally misleading version of Mueller results, downplaying Stone role

March 28, 2019: Liu pulls her nomination from AAG

April 19, 2019: Mueller Report released with Stone details redacted

May 29, 2019: As Mueller gives final press conference, Andrew Miller testifies before grand jury

November 12, 2019: Prosecutors apparently change Stone trial strategy, withhold details of Stone’s actual back channel

November 15, 2019: Roger Stone convicted on all counts

January 6, 2020: Jessie Liu nominated to Treasury

January 16, 2020: Probation Office issues Presentence Report calling for 7-9 years

January 30, 2020: Bill Barr replaces Liu with Timothy Barr, effective February 3; DOJ submits objection to Presentence Report

February 3, 2020: Timothy Shea becomes acting US Attorney

February 5, 2020 : Senate votes to acquit Trump

February 6, 2020: Initial sentencing date for Roger Stone

February 10, 2020: Stone sentencing memoranda submitted

February 11, 2020: DOJ overrules DC on Stone sentencing memorandum, all four prosecutors resign from case

February 20, 2020: Current sentencing date for Roger Stone

56 replies
      • ernesto1581 says:

        yes, us v booker. but I think I was wondering about the realistic expectation of her to freely exercise that latitude, given the poisonous atmosphere.
        she has, however, seemed to be a straight shooter so far, so maybe it’s misplaced hand wringing on my part…

        interesting to see what comes down if/when she follows prosecutors’ recommendation, though.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          One reason federal judges have life tenure is so they can be freer from political considerations when making their decisions.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      ABJ is an article III judge. Her wide lattitude hasn’t changed.

      She could easily sentence Stone to the orginally recommended 7-9 years, which is well within the guidelines. It would take a lot of creative argument, of the kind Clarence Thomas says (but does not mean that) judges should not do, to overturn that sentence on appeal.

      Another hot button issue – because of Trump’s personal interest in it and Barr’s putting his wishes above all else – will be whether and when Stone goes to prison pending his iinevitable appeal. That will have an effect on when Trump needs to pardon or commute Stone’s sentence, a decision he seems to want to put off until after the November election.

      • Tony el Tigre says:

        Pre-impeachment, I would have agreed with you.

        Now, Trump seems to have become so detached and arrogant that he can convince himself that it’s a sign of weakness to wait till after the election, that the travesty of justice is so blatant that he is justified in not waiting and pardoning Stone now. Doing it now, in his mind, is evidence of the corrupt case and not his corrupt intent.

        Trump was never rational and now he is even less so.

        • P J Evans says:

          Trmp is irrational enough that he’s taking credit for the success of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon. (Because they can be used to spell MAGA.)

      • emptywheel says:

        I agree that the report date is going to be the big thing, given that Stone will have his sentence commuted one way or another on November 4.

  1. Jenny says:

    Thank you Marcy. Excellent post.
    Trump and Barr are having breakfast, lunch and dinner together considering Barr is Trump’s personal attorney hired to obstruct justice using the title Attorney General. Ugh!

  2. viget says:

    Great article Marcy. It seems like we just need the truth to come out one way or another. DOJ clearly is in full coverup mode, and Stone is likely going to have his sentence commuted. It’s all in the open right now, they’re not even trying to hide it.

  3. harpie says:

    Greg Sargent just published an interview with former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich:
    7:14 AM – 12 Feb 2020

    In a stunning development, former Justice Department inspector general @mrbromwich has called on insiders to report political manipulation. I just had a long talk with Bromwich. It’s hair-raising stuff. He sees an “existential threat.” Our interview: As Trump openly corrupts DOJ, a former insider sounds the alarm [link] […]
    Former DOJ IG @mrbromwich says Judge Amy Jackson has it in her power to hold a hearing, to demand that DOJ account for its interference on Roger Stone’s behalf, which was plainly done at Trump’s command: […]

    I wonder if Judge Jackson will do that.

    • John B. says:

      “I wonder if Judge Jackson will do that.”

      That’s a good question. My anecdotal sense is she will not…

      • Vicks says:

        Why not?
        She is a judge after all, and politics aside, before she sentences a man to what presumably will be some sort of jail time I would assume part of her responsibility to be fair and impartial is to find out why the prosecution withdrew a sentencing recommendation approved by the prosecutors involved in the case and replaced with a much milder one signed off by (for lack of a better word) an “interloper”.
        Justice goes both ways and if the situation were reversed Stone would have every right to scream holy hell.

        • bmaz says:

          No. This is not how it works. You get the respective memos from APO, prosecution and defense. Then you sentence. This is NOT a bullshit expedition because of political outrage…..from either side.

          And the question is not jail, it is prison. This is not a shitshow for the media and internet to demand control. Stop.

        • Vicks says:

          I get what you are saying but I can’t help but consider that one of Stone’s convictions was for witness tampering.
          Taking politics out of it, (and please excuse my limited knowledge of legal grammar) here is my concern.
          Say a prosecutor was successful in getting someone convicted for a handful of crimes, one of them being witness tampering.
          At the sentencing hearing or in a written sentencing document he/she lists all the aggravating facts and makes a case for requesting a sentence on the high end of what’s available; and then the next day he/she comes back, saying “nevermind, forget what I said yesterday, how about probation?”
          I would think it would be expected, but my track record on this is sucking, so I will go with, “wouldn’t it at least be reasonable, for a fair and impartial judge to ask what changed their mind?”
          I don’t want to imply that I think any of this should sway the judges decision on sentencing, and I will freely admit a self interest in learning the answer, but I’m not sure how she could wrap things up and issue a sentence without at least asking if justice was still being obstructed?

        • e.a.f. says:

          the judge may “go along to get along”. She has seen what Trump does when he is unhappy and those tweet storms can put people in very public and perhaps dangerous positions. Don’t know anything about her, but if she has family, she might not be that interested in drawing the fire of the tweet storms from Trump. If she has little to no family, she may go ahead and do what she thinks is best for the justice system and upholding the law.

        • bmaz says:

          This is complete internet bullshit. ABJ has a family and lifetime tenure. She will do what she thinks is right.

          This kind of asinine postulation is not helpful to the case, the judge, or this blog.

        • Rugger9 says:

          I do not recall any example where Judge Jackson bent to the will of any administration, and given how Stone tried to muck up the proceedings I would expect her to go the 7 – 9 year route. As we would expect an appeal, and knowing that the COA assigns judges on rotation for the first 3-judge panel (at least they do in the 9th Circuit) what are the prospects of a “true believer” getting assigned to this case? I know Individual-1 has been packing the courts with MMMcT’s help, and I see this playing out with the COA spiking it and SCOTUS declining to cert (although that bar is only 4 justices, and maybe I-1 will have annoyed them sufficiently by the time it gets there).

          I don’t think she (ABJ) will waste time questioning Crabb or his flunkie-du-jour but given how I-1 did another victory lap for this I can’t see her letting this go without some starchy comments.

        • bmaz says:

          I do not know of any instance where ABJ did that. Such said, I am not sure she was ever going to sentence in the initial 7-9 range, nor that she should have. 5-6 strikes me as right, and still does. Non-violent white collar people do get certain presumptions at sentencing. That includes Stone. Anything 5 or above is fine by me.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I’m as cynical as anyone here. But we haven’t yet become Brazil or the Philippines, so I think your concern is overstated.

          ABJ is a federal district court judge, with lifetime tenure, in highly visible DC. After a long career, she has antennae and her own protective network. Trump may want to “get at her,” to get his way, but it’s unlikely he can.

          Having a president who creates such fears is Vladimir Putin’s dream come true. Replacing him in November should be ours.

  4. orionATL says:

    this gambit by barr is well thought out, completely brazen, and successful so far.

    one might think this is the sort of malodorous political shenanigans that the mainstream media would tackled with relish and persist in investigating. I won’t hold my breath though.

    • General Sternwood says:

      If Trump is re-elected, he will just rename DOJ “The Republican Guard.” And 40% of the country will say “This is fine.”

        • Rugger9 says:

          Actually I would agree with GS here, since Individual-1 is more like Saddam than Caesar, including having his own versions of Uday and Qusay.

          I prefer my version-that-cannot-be-named (KQ) but this works too.

    • Frank Probst says:

      I personally find this strategy to be just plain stupid. They could have simply let ABJ sentence Stone on the 6th. Odds are that Stone wouldn’t be taken into custody immediately, so he’d likely still be a free man for a few more weeks. And then right before he was supposed to report to prison, Trump could have commuted his sentence to parole with no prison time, a la Scooter Libby. There would have been grumbling about it, but it wouldn’t have looked nearly as bad as yesterday did.

      Now, ABJ could look at the prosecutor’s new memo and sentence Stone to, say, 3 years in prison, which is less than half of what the Probation Office suggested but is consistent with what the new memo requests. Trump is STILL going to have to commute Stone’s sentence, even though it’s far less than the Probation Office suggested, because Stone isn’t going to spend a day in prison, and they’ve only gained two weeks (Feb 6-Feb 20) of time in exchange for a massive scandal.

      • orionATL says:

        I think these guys, e. g., attny. gen. barr, are way past appearances, way past shame. certainly their leader passed shame decades ago on his way to adulthood and never looked back.

        they are not worried about the opposition. they are not worried about the media. whose to sorry about? willard?

        they’ve got the power of “confusion propaganda” going for them. they don’t need anything else.

        • Frank Probst says:

          I agree that they blew past shame quite a while ago, and they don’t care about the appearance of corruption. It just seems like they’re making an extra effort to be absolutely sure that everyone can see the corruption, and the fact that they’re doing it this way means that they’ll have to be more corrupt in the future.

        • Mister Sterling says:

          Great point. The more obvious they are in their lawlessness, the boundaries of the law get pushed back. The Senate is doing nothing. The Supreme Court is complacent. I think Trump can start executions on the South Lawn. Bring in Dr. Hill for her bullet to the head. Her testimony was far, far more damaging than Vidman’s.

      • Mister Sterling says:

        Absolutely. But Trump has no care about appearances. It’s the same thing that happened with Yovanovich. He could have simply fired her. But he let his goons drag-out a year-long smear campaign that could have gotten her assassinated. I am almost certain that around march 4, we will see Trump publicly say or tweet that he needs foreign help in uncovering dirt about Bernie Sanders, once Sanders starts running away with the Democratic nomination.

  5. harpie says:

    after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr

    Ah, yes…Iran/Contra.
    I ran across another name from that scheme today, [from WaPo’s Spencer Hsu]
    8:52 PM – 11 Feb 2020

    […] Liu’s bid [for Treasury] was strongly opposed by Barbara Ledeen, a conservative operative and Senate staffer whose husband [Michael] co-authored a book with Flynn.

    Mueller reported Flynn contacted Ledeen in 2016 campaign to obtain Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s private emails, a person familiar said.

    Treasury officials believe Trump himself made the call to withdraw Liu because her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee was set for Thursday, and Trump was concerned she would be asked about the case, the person said

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The Ledeens, Barbara and Michael, are longtime arch-conservative neocons, think tankers, war hawks, disinformation specialists, and Republican operatives.

      Michael’s early work involved research on Italian fascism: he seems to have used it as a guide rather than a warning. He has apparently been involved in several of the GOP’s dirtiest tricks, from Reagan’s campaign to unseat Jimmy Carter to Trump’s campaign.

      If Barbara Ledeen opposed moving Liu to Treasury, it might have been for the same reason Barr moved her out of the DC USA’s slot: despite being a True Trumper, she still believes in doing her job. At Treasury, that would have been to combat money laundering and international financial crimes.

  6. Willis J Warren says:

    We’re in legal terra incognita, aren’t we? Barr can’t be held accountable, disbarred, or whatever. What fucking options do we have, given Pelosi didn’t even want to impeach to begin with. Her lackadaisical impeachment declaration has already cost one important court case.

    We’re all operating under the assumption that the election is gonna be fair and that he’ll step down if he loses, which is a pretty dumb assumption.

    • John K says:

      I think we all know that the election will not be fair because of voter ID laws, roll purging, foreign interference, etc. The real issue has become voter turnout and whether or not we can generate a tsunami to wipe out the Republican acceptance of criminality. And that sounds like wishful thinking.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      Mr. Warren, if, in the process of all of Trump’s cheating to win reelection, Trump ends up losing his bid for reelection, anyhow, then . . . [I’m thinking, I’m thinking] . . . Trump would have–not just to accuse-but to prove that his opponents in the Democratic Party had successfully cheated to win the 2020 election instead.

      Trump will need evidence for that. P. G. FUBarr will not be allowed to fabricate evidence of Democratic election fraud against Trump without . . . [uh-oh.] . . . [Buggger!].

  7. Frank Probst says:

    I still don’t get where Andrew Miller fits into all of this. He testified in front of the grand jury AFTER all of the indictments had been handed out, and that’s only supposed to happen if prosecutors are pursuing additional charges. (I think. @bmaz and others can pile on if I’m getting this wrong.) He had to fly in from wherever he lives to give testimony in the Stone trial, and I had the sense that the prosecution wanted to have the flexibility to put him in as a witness at any point in the trial that they deemed necessary. And then he didn’t testify at all. So what are the best guesses as to what he can say?

    • Marinela says:

      Perhaps was playing in the other investigations we don’t know of that were opened at the time.
      And by now they are probably quietly closed under Barr leadership.

  8. foggycoast says:

    in the IANAL category. The DOJ and Stone’s team are now in lockstep re: sentencing. Judge Amy Jackson can choose whatever sentence she feels is appropriate within sentencing guidelines. Would/could she request the resigned DOJ line-lawyers to explain at the sentencing hearing their sentencing suggestions?

  9. Stephen Calhoun says:

    Thanks Marcy.

    Question (apologies if previously answered)

    Did the House screw up in not attaching an additional Article of Impeachment rooted to the Mueller Report, (especially #2) ?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Would its fate have been different than the other articles?

      It might have brought out more facts concerning Trump’s abuses and crimes, but I don’t think it would have persuaded Senate Republicans to convict him. The facts are still there if the Democratic nominee wants to use them on the negative side of her campaign.

      • BobCon says:

        I think the mistake was rooted in the process. Not launching an investigation earlier meant that the groundwork wasn’t there for a Mueller-based article. Pelosi really boxed herself into what she got.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Susan Collins is less effective than Lt. Gorman was in commanding his Colonial Marines on LV-426.

      Her grandmotherly remonstrance will not persuade Maine’s voters to supporter her. It will do less to constrain the president. At this point, I think her offering up pablum is a reflex action to the bright lights.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    And the not so slow firings. In addition to the Vindmans and Sondland, Trump has fired Elaine McCusker. She was a DoD official that Trump had nominated to be the DoD’s comptroller and CFO. That’s a monumental job and it won’t be filled any time soon. It will take time and create opportunity costs for the DoD to find new candidates for the job she was dong and the one she was nominated for.

    There are damn few people who understand the myriad ways the DoD accounts – and fails to account – for its gargantuan budget. There are fewer who could manage its finances, what with its scale, the timing and constraints on its sources and uses of funds, its public and black box budgets, the plethora of private contractors it has to account for, the gazillion contracts and compliance issues that creates, and so on.

    So what was worth giving the DoD another headache in an area that has always been problematic for it? How did McCusker rise to such prominence that el Caudillo took a personal interest in firing her?

    She argued that withholding aid to Ukraine would be illegal. She worked hard to be accommodating, but gently pushed the participants into some less illegal course of conduct. Trump, it seems, likes his minions prostrate, but he wants his illegality straight up.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Stephen Miller persuaded Donnie Trump to appoint his good buddy, a lawyer with about ten year’s experience, none of it in management, to be DHS’s top lawyer. Chad Mizelle will oversee DHS’s 2500 attorney legal staff. (h/t digby)

    Mizelle went to Cornell Law and clerked for the DC Circuit. He worked on Trump’s campaign, as counsel/aide for the DoJ’s no. 3 lawyer, the Deputy Attorney General, and as “acting” chief of staff at DHS.

    Being DHS’s top lawyer would be a daunting job for an experienced manager at any large global law firm. Elevating Mizelle to that job is like putting a medical intern in charge of Mass. General.

    Service quality will go down, chaos and political compliance will go up, deaths and needless harm will too. But everyone will share the administration’s views on the undesirability of little brown immigrants from shithole countries.

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