By this writing, four federal prosecutors have withdrawn from the prosecution team of Trump confidant Roger Stone after the Justice Department reversed its sentencing recommendation for Stone, who was convicted on seven charges last year that came out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. These included lying to Congress and to investigators under oath, as well as witness tampering.

At least one prosecutor appears to have abruptly ended his assignment as a Special Assistant United States Attorney to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, where the Stone case was based, and will return to his home office in Baltimore. Another has resigned his position as an Assistant United States Attorney — a life-altering act of professional consequence conveyed to the court in a one-sentence filing.

Did the prosecutors sever themselves from the case because Department of Justice management disagreed with their initial recommendation? Probably not — prosecutors and departmental leaders disagree all the time.

No, these prosecutors likely drew the line at a feckless departmental leadership changing the sentencing recommendation after it had been filed with the court because, in the face of possible presidential influence and likely political interference, their reputations with the court– before which they conducted the trial of Roger Stone — were on the line.

And as any Department of Justice lawyer knows, your reputation is the most important credential you have. Had they gone along with the about-face before the court, their professional integrity would be impugned.

Instead, these lawyers will walk away from this case with their reputations intact.

Sadly, not so for the Department of Justice. Since his 2016 campaign for President, Donald Trump has openly and persistently indicated his desire to use the instruments of law enforcement and the Justice Department to carry out political retribution. Jailing his political opponent was a chant his followers took up, and he encouraged, after all.

Under his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, he repeatedly tried to exert political pressure on Sessions to end the Mueller investigation, and to un-recuse, none of which Sessions would do. And so he was gone. The President then appointed – on questionable legal basis— a political sycophant in Matthew Whitaker, whom he thought would be malleable, because he “likes ‘actings’.”

Finally, the President secured an attorney general in William Barr, who not only appears incapable of insulating the department from the appearance of political interference, but seems alternatingly oblivious to the harm he’s doing to the department and also content to bend the department’s activities to the President’s whims all in the name of robust executive power.

Thus, whether or not the President’s public statement via tweet about the Stone sentencing recommendation directly caused the recommendation reversal (Trump denied any involvement in the sentencing revision), or whether Barr himself made the decision to reverse, the effect is the same: the public will lose confidence in the impartiality of the department itself.

We don’t know for sure that the President directed the sentencing recommendation reversal, just as we don’t know for sure whether the President caused the department to set up a special channel for his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pass derogatory information about his political opponents to the department’s investigators at the FBI. By now, the president’s direct involvement is beside the point. What matters is that the perception of the attorney general — and by extension — the department itself, are bending to political will.

As a result, the department’s law enforcement and prosecutorial actions will increasingly be viewed by the public as incapable of the apolitical administration of justice.

The strain of conducting impartial investigations and prosecutions has increasingly been and will continue to be tainted every single time the president speaks publicly about a prosecution that is “unfair,” an investigation that is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” a defendant who has been “treated so badly,” or a political opponent who should be investigated.

Four federal prosecutors didn’t withdraw from the case against Roger Stone Tuesday because they had a substantive disagreement with their management. Four prosecutors withdrew from the case because they refuse to watch justice undone.

Editor’s note: Carrie Cordero is a CNN legal and national security analyst. She is the Robert M. Gates senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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