Barr’s DOJ Signals Willingness to Act on Politically Charged Cases

AG reportedly assigns US attorney to review Ukraine information on Biden; DOJ disputes Stone sentencing recommendation
February 11, 2020 Updated: February 11, 2020
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News Analysis

On Feb. 9, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during an appearance on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that he intends to call witnesses regarding the many problematic issues surrounding Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses that were highlighted in the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report.

Graham told the show’s moderator, Margaret Brennan, that, “I will get to the bottom of how the FISA warrant system failed and make sure we reform it, doesn’t happen again.”

He then pivoted to the topic of Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and Ukraine, telling Brennan, “I think questions about the conflict of interest regarding Hunter Biden in the Ukraine need to be asked. The State Department had warnings and they ignored the conflict of interest.”

Graham noted that if Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, “has any information coming out of the Ukraine, he needs to turn it over to the Department of Justice, because it could be Russian propaganda.”

“I’m going to get to the bottom of the FISA work process because it was an abuse of power, of the Department of Justice, the FBI. And we’re to make sure that Hunter Biden’s conflict of interest is explored because it’s legitimate. How could Joe Biden really fight corruption when his son is sitting on the Burisma board?” Graham told Brennan.

Graham also said he had contacted Attorney General William Barr about the matter.

In response to a question by Brennan, who asked whether “the Department of Justice been ordered to investigate the Bidens?” Graham said: “No. The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from Rudy to see. He told me that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.

“So let’s look at Hunter Biden’s conflict. Let’s look at Joe Biden. Vice President Biden, what did you do when they told you your son was on Burisma’s board? It undercuts your ability to fight corruption,” Graham said.

In the interview, Graham described Giuliani, as a “crime fighter,” “loyal to the president,” and “a good lawyer,” but noted that “the Russians are still up to it” and that “when it comes to documents coming out of the Ukraine,” both Republicans and Democrats should “be very cautious turning anything over you got over to the intel community.”

This isn’t the first instance of a senator calling for an investigation into Hunter Biden.

On Feb. 5, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Minn.) sent a letter to James Murray, the director of the U.S. Secret Service. In the letter, the senators note that the committees on Finance, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs are “reviewing potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration, particularly with respect to his business activities in Ukraine and China.”

On the day following Graham’s “Face the Nation” interview, and during a press conference in which Barr announced charges against four members of the Chinese military, he was asked about Graham’s comments—and acknowledged that he had spoken to Graham about the matter.

Barr also said that an “intake process” had been established for any information received by the DOJ on Ukraine.

“The DOJ has the obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant,” Barr said.

“But as I did say to Senator Graham, and we have to be very careful in, with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine. There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine. There are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value,” he said.

“And for that reason, we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners so that we could assess its provenance and its credibility.”

Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich, when asked at the same press conference how the FBI was handling the information provided by Giuliani, he responded, “we’re taking information as we would in any case. We will evaluate it appropriately.”

Bowdich was also asked whether the FBI was investigating Joe or Hunter Biden, to which Bowditch said, “I’m not going to talk about any investigation as I never would. We do not talk about open investigations.”

According to a Feb. 10 article by The Washington Post, a Justice Department official confirmed that Giuliani had “recently shared information with federal law enforcement officials through the process described by Barr.”

The Post reported that according to a DOJ official, the Ukraine “information is being routed to the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh.”

Additionally, CBS News reported on Feb. 11, 2020, that DOJ officials “have been ‘quietly’ reviewing records and documents from Ukraine for ‘several weeks.’”

Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, is leading this effort according to media reports. The Epoch Times has been unable to independently confirm the report. Brady was appointed by President Trump on Sept. 18, 2017, and was confirmed by the Senate two months later.

Brady’s purported work on the Ukraine-related information is separate from the investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is examining the origins of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

New DOJ Guideline on Probing Presidential Campaigns

Last week, on the same day that Trump was acquitted by the Senate, Barr issued a memorandum requiring the FBI “and all other divisions under the department’s purview” to obtain direct permission from Barr prior to investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Barr noted in the memo, which was reportedly obtained by The New York Times.

Barr noted that the DOJ has a responsibility to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences.” He also required that high-level department heads must be notified prior to the investigation of Senate or House candidates. These new requirements will remain in effect throughout the 2020 election cycle, at which point, they will be re-evaluated and a determination will be made if they should remain in place.

The announcement of the new requirement comes after the DOJ allegedly has been looking into Ukraine matters related to Hunter and Joe Biden, which suggests that permission must have been directly granted by Barr for Brady’s office and the FBI to proceed.

When Joe Biden was asked during an appearance on “CBS This Morning” if he’s concerned about the potential launch of a federal investigation, he appeared at first dismissive as he laughed at the question, and then became angry. He referred to Giuliani as a “thug” toward the end of his response.

“I don’t think our sons are fair game at all. No one has said he’s done anything wrong except a thug, Rudy Giuliani,” Biden said in the interview.

Roger Stone Case

In an election-matter dating back to the 2016 presidential campaigns, federal prosecutors announced on Feb. 10 that they were seeking a harsher-than-expected sentence of seven to nine years in prison for Roger Stone, who was convicted in November 2019 of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness.

The next day, however,  it was reported that the DOJ was “preparing to change its sentencing recommendation” for Stone due to the “excessive” prison time being sought by prosecutors. Fox News was told by a DOJ official that “The department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the filing in the Stone case last night.”

The official reportedly told Fox that the “sentencing recommendation was not what had been briefed to the Department.”

On the same day, all four prosecutors who had handled the Stone case abruptly resigned from the case. Three of the four, Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, and Michael Marando, remain employed by the DOJ in other capacities, but the fourth, Jonathan Kravis, left the DOJ entirely.

The most notable of these resignations was that of Zelinsky, who was a former member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Zelinsky resigned his “special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office” but remains employed as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland.

None of the four provided a public reason for their resignations.

As these resignations were taking place, the DOJ announced that it planned to “reduce its sentencing recommendation” for Stone, lending credence to the reports that the “sentencing recommendation was not what had been briefed” to top DOJ officials.

In a supplemental sentencing memorandum, the DOJ noted that “the range of 87 to 108 months presented as the applicable advisory Guidelines range would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case” but also noted that “the government defers to the court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case.”