WASHINGTON – 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.
"Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case," the letter reads.