Barr Challenged SDNY’s Decision To Prosecute Michael Cohen

Attorney General Bill Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting on December 10, 2019 in Washington... Attorney General Bill Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 26, 2020 10:44 a.m.

Attorney General Bill Barr reportedly made efforts to dispute the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) criminal case of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who was convicted for violating campaign finance laws.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that after Barr joined the Trump administration in February last year, the attorney general grilled officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) over their prosecution of Cohen for weeks that spring.

Barr reportedly went as far as ordering his Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to write a memo challenging the SDNY’s reasons for bringing campaign finance violation charges against Cohen for paying adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her affair with Trump.

Unnamed sources told the Times that Barr contended that instead of criminal charges, cases like Cohen’s ought to be addressed through civil proceedings by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges, which also included bank fraud and tax evasion, and was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2018. He began serving his sentence in May 2019.

Though Cohen used to be one of Trump’s most diehard loyalists, eventually the ex-lawyer turned against the President and directly implicated him in the Stormy Daniels scheme, alleging that Trump had personally instructed him to make the hush payments.

The Justice Department did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The Times’ report also details efforts by Barr to meddle in yet another criminal case of one of Trump’s allies. In May, the attorney general had the Justice Department withdraw former Trump adviser Michael Flynn’s case even though Flynn, like Cohen, had pleaded guilty to his criminal charges. Additionally, Barr pushed federal prosecutors to water down its sentencing recommendation for Trump confidant Roger Stone.

And last Friday, Barr abruptly announced the resignation of then-U.S. Attorney of the SDNY Geoff Berman, who initially refused to step down before deciding to resign on Saturday after a nearly 24-hour standoff with the attorney general. Along with leading the prosecution of Cohen, the SDNY is also in the middle of investigating Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Barr has denied accusations that he intervened in the cases for political reasons.

“It’s very important that the attorney general make sure that there’s no political influence at stake involved in that, and there wasn’t,” he told NPR on Thursday.

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