Press release June 24, 2020
United States: Political Interference with Prosecutions Threatens Rule of Law
Even the appearance of political motivations must be carefully avoided.
In response to recent developments involving federal criminal cases against associates of the president, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Justice Department’s recent moves to replace federal prosecutors managing cases against President Trump’s associates, and to drop charges or reduce sentences for the defendants in question, amount to a pattern of behavior that threatens America’s core democratic values, including equality before the law,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The administration has resisted oversight of the president’s official or private conduct from Congress, inspectors general, and state prosecutors, and the renewed pressure on federal prosecutors suggests that it is attempting to close off yet another avenue for accountability. The appearance of political motives in prosecutorial decisions, let alone the reality, should be a matter of grave concern for all Americans.”
“We have observed comparable efforts to interfere with law enforcement in countries including Sri Lanka, where top investigators looking into abuses under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa were removed after his brother was elected president; Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of attempting to quash criminal cases against his family members and associates; and Malaysia, where prosecutors have apparently begun to pull back on corruption cases against former prime minister Najib Razak’s family since his political allies returned to power this year,” Abramowitz added. “The United States, as the world’s most prominent democracy, must set a better example and hold itself to the highest standard.”
On June 20, President Trump fired a US attorney in New York, Geoffrey Berman, after he refused to resign. He had been overseeing investigations of Trump’s personal lawyer, among other cases linked to the president. Berman’s office was also responsible for an ongoing case against a Turkish bank, on whose behalf the Turkish president had persistently lobbied the Trump administration.
In February, Trump associate Roger Stone received a reduced prison sentence after Justice Department leadership replaced the US attorney overseeing the case and intervened to revise the assigned prosecutors’ initial sentencing request, prompting four of them to withdraw in protest. President Trump had repeatedly and publicly defended Stone and denounced his prosecution.
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