Schumer Floor Remarks Calling On Chief Justice Roberts To Defend Independence Of The Judicial Branch From President Trump’s Attacks

February 13, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor urging the DOJ IG to investigate the reduced sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone and calling on Chief Justice Roberts to defend the independence of the judicial branch from President Trump’s attacks. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

In the short week since the conclusion of the president’s impeachment trial, the president has reminded us of all the reasons why Congress must serve as a check on the executive.

The president has dismissed members of his administration who testified in the house impeachment inquiry, including, for no reason, the twin brother of one of the witnesses. The administration is reportedly withdrawing the nomination of a senior Pentagon official who merely advised her colleagues about the legal implications of delaying assistance to Ukraine. When the president doesn’t like the truth, it has no place in this administration, and people who speak truth to power are summarily dismissed.

And on Tuesday, after career prosecutors made sentencing recommendations for Roger Stone, who was found guilty of witness tampering and lying to Congress, the president tweeted that his former confidant was being unfairly treated.

Soon afterwards, it appears the Attorney General or other political appointees at DOJ countermanded the sentencing recommendation and will instead advise a more lenient sentence for the president’s friend. As a result, all four career prosecutors connected to the Stone case withdrew from the case or resigned from the Justice Department entirely—a clear signal that they believed the revised sentencing conflicted with their professional and ethical obligations as prosecutors.

Of course, it was not enough for the president to just lean on the Justice Department to make it easy on his old pal. The president went on publicly to attack the judge who will decide Mr. Stone’s fate, another example of the president’s blatant contempt for the independence of the judiciary.

In the past, Chief Justice Roberts has spoken out in defense of the independence of the judicial branch. When the President during his campaign attacked Judge Curiel, the Chief Justice released a statement saying: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” That’s what Chief Justice Roberts said.

Well, President Trump is once again attacking a federal judge – in this case Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over the Stone case. The nation now looks again to Chief Justice Roberts to make clear to President Trump that these attacks are unacceptable. Speaking of the independence of the judiciary in broad and general terms is well and good, it’s a good thing to do. But to not speak up now, when in the middle of this brouhaha, a judge is being attacked by the president before she makes a sentencing decision? That’s when we really need the Chief Justice to speak up.

So, now would be the time for Chief Justice Roberts to speak up. Now would be the time for the Chief Justice to directly and specifically defend the independence of this federal judge. I hope he will see fit to do that, and to do it today.

I have also called on the inspector general of the Justice Department to investigate the Roger Stone matter. The Judiciary Committee in the Senate should do the same. But even without formal investigation, it is abundantly clear that something is rotten in the Justice Department.

The president can corrupt our Justice Department in two major ways: pressuring it to investigate his opponents or using its power to reward his friends.

The impeachment of the president concerned the first abuse: the president wanted a foreign power to announce an investigation into one of his political opponents or funnel allegedly incriminating information to our Justice Department. The president explicitly mentioned the Attorney General during his phone call with the Ukrainian president. More recently, Attorney General Barr has publicly said that the Justice Department now has set up a “channel” to receive information from the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about the Ukraine scandal—what seems to be an attempt to accomplish the same goals the president was just impeached over.

The events surrounding Mr. Stone’s more lenient sentencing recommendations are an example of the second way presidents can corrupt the Justice Department: improperly rewarding the president’s friends.

In the wake of Watergate, Congress passed laws, made crucial reforms, so that this kind of abuse of the levers of power would not happen again.

But here, right now, the president is using the hallowed Justice Department—the only cabinet agency named for an ideal, justice—as his personal law firm. What a shame. What a defamation of what the Constitution is all about.

My Senate colleagues who believed the president would be chastened by impeachment have been completely and disastrously wrong.

The only lesson the president has learned is that there is nothing he can do that Senate Republicans will not forgive or rationalize or simply ignore.

The lesson the president has learned is that the courts are unlikely to stop him, too, because the Senate Republican caucus has voted to confirm virtually every judge he’s nominated, no matter how unqualified or ill-suited to the bench.

We are staring at a crisis of the rule of law. The institutions designed to check executive power are crumbling before our very eyes.

The crisis was the president’s own making. But it was enabled and emboldened by every Senate Republican who has been too afraid to stand up to the president and say “No.”