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early Tuesday evening, more than 720 former federal prosecutors who
worked in Democratic and Republican administrations had signed a letter
asserting that President Trump would have been charged with obstructing
justice based on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings — if
Trump were not the president.
included some left-leaning lawyers who have gained prominence from their
frequent TV appearances, but also a significant number of career
prosecutors and high-profile conservatives who bristle at the suggestion
they were motivated by anti-Trump bias.
A handful interviewed by The Post on Tuesday said they hoped for little else than to make public their view that Attorney General William P. Barr had mischaracterized Mueller’s report
in asserting it laid out insufficient evidence to make an obstruction
case. They said they did not sign hoping to spark impeachment
The group’s views stand in stark
contrast to those of Barr’s — who has offered detailed defenses of his
decision that there was not a case to be made — and to many Republican
lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declared in a speech Tuesday that Democrats should move on from the investigations into Trump, asserting bluntly, “case closed.”
himself left the question open, saying a Justice Department Office of
Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted
prevented him from saying even in a confidential report whether he
believed the president committed a crime.
the notable names in the group of letter signers was Elkan Abramowitz, a
former federal prosecutor in New York who has gained attention recently
for representing David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media
Trump and Pecker had been longtime
friends, though their relationship collapsed as federal authorities
explored AMI’s role in hush-money payments Trump arranged to be sent to
women to keep quiet about alleged affairs. Pecker was involved in the
effort, and AMI ultimately acknowledged its role.
a Democrat, said he signed the letter because he found Barr’s
statements about Mueller’s report “so unbelievably misleading that I
thought a clear statement of what the report said was in order.” He said
his signature had “nothing to do” with Pecker or any other client.
line in his testimony where he said that the president, ‘if he thought
any investigation of him was not fair he could stop it,’ was really —
not only destructive and wrong — it was stupid,” Abramowitz said,
referring to Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Everybody I represent says that the investigation of them is unfair,
and they have very sincerely held beliefs that the investigation is
unfair. It was just an absurd statement.”
Harris, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in New York and longtime
friend of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, said he first saw the letter
when it was blasted out to an email group for former federal
prosecutors. He said he signed because if he had a case involving even
one of the incidents Mueller described, “I would have clearly prosecuted
that person or persons, and I can tell you, when Rudy was a prosecutor,
he would’ve done the same thing.”
“Whether to prosecute this kind of conduct was not a close prosecutorial call,” Harris said. “This was a no brainer.”
served as Giuliani’s top deputy when Giuliani served as the No. 3
Justice Department official in the Reagan administration and said the
two once socialized regularly, though they haven’t been in touch in
recent years, Harris said. Giuliani said in a text message: “I would not
bring a case where there is no underlying crime and nothing actually
obstructed. Jeff was a Dem, I believe, and I doubt he voted for Trump.
Indeed I’m not sure any of them, Rs or Ds. supported Trump. What
prosecutors would offer a gratuitous opinion on a case they didn’t
He said while he has “great
affection” for Harris, his former colleague was ignoring critical
aspects of Mueller’s report. For example, Giuliani said, Mueller’s
assertion that he could not “exonerate” Trump was “a perversion of the
2,000 year old burden in any case.”
“Prosecutors don’t exonerate,” he said.
“That requires proving a negative that most often is impossible.”
said he is a longtime Republican but registered as a Democrat to vote
in primary elections when he moved to Washington, which picks most of
its officeholders in primaries because its voters are overwhelmingly
Harris said the letter already
seems to have accomplished its main mission, alerting the public “that
there are a large number of former professional prosecutors and
Department of Justice attorneys who think that the public statements of
Barr and Giuliani and the like that there’s nothing to see here is
absolutely wrong.” He said he is ambivalent about the letter’s potential
impact on possible impeachment efforts — because he knows the Senate
would not vote to remove Trump from office.
would like to see this guy leave office at the soonest opportunity by
any legal means. Do I think impeachment is going to accomplish that? I
don’t. Do I think this will help in the next election cycle? I hope it
does,” Harris said.
Paul Rosenzweig, who served
as senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, said he
signed the letter to present a “counterpoint” to the narrative Barr had
advanced that the evidence was insufficient to accuse Trump of
Rosenzweig — a longtime
member of the conservative Federalist Society group who said his “views
on substantive issues are as far from liberal as you can imagine on most
things” — said while he supported Bill Clinton’s impeachment, he was
not in as strong a position to judge whether lawmakers should pursue the
same result for Trump.
Signing the letter, he
said, was “more about the public, and it was more about correcting what I
think was the erroneous record that was created by the attorney
“I don’t have any hopes,” he said. “I
think it’s important to say that Trump’s conduct violated criminal law,
and that if he were another person, he’d be prosecuted.” He added he
hopes people “take that into account when they cast their next ballot.”
Ayer, a deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration,
said he saw the statement in a draft form last week, and he soon began
circulating it among other former prosecutors who felt Barr’s
characterization of Mueller’s report belied its content.
just felt a need to tell the American people from the perspective of
unbiased observers who at different times in our lives have done this
for a living that there really is a case here,” he said, adding later,
“I sort of feel like, if you’re in a position to say something that
anybody might care about you saying — and it’s important — a lot of the
time you probably ought to say it.”
As to what happens next, though, Ayer said he takes no position.
don’t really have a specific aspiration, other than that I hope people
will pay some attention and maybe themselves read the report and think
about what would happen to an ordinary person who had done the things
that were shown to be done here.” Ayer said.