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Group of federal judges calls emergency meeting over concerns about DOJ’s intervention in politically sensitive cases

The leaders of a group of federal judges will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to address growing concerns about the recent intervention of President Donald Trump and the Justice Department in politically sensitive cases, Megan Cruz, the executive director of the group, told CNN on Tuesday.

Trump and Attorney General William Barr ignited fresh concerns about the impartiality of the Justice Department last week when Barr retracted a recommended sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone after the President criticized it on Twitter. Trump also took to social media to criticize the judge involved in Stone’s case. Barr is also ordering a re-examination of several high-profile cases, including that of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The actions prompted more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials who served in Republican as well as Democratic administrations to sign a statement calling on Barr to resign.

It is extremely rare for judges to speak out about pending cases or controversies, but a handful, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have pushed back in the past regarding the President’s criticism of judges.

The group, called the Federal Judges Association, is an independent and voluntary organization of US judges that was founded in 1982 in part to address concerns related to the compensation of federal judges.

Cruz said she could not make further comments about the planned conference call but confirmed that the nine-member executive committee of the group decided the emergency meeting was necessary. Five officers of the group, including Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, its president, will also participate in the call.

“They felt it was necessary to have the call,” Cruz said, noting that the group’s next regularly scheduled meeting is in April.

The conference call was first reported by USA Today on Monday.

Rufe told the newspaper that the group “could not wait” until the April conference to discuss a “deepening crisis” involving the department and Barr. She said members called for Tuesday’s meeting following Trump’s criticism of the original sentencing recommendation for Stone, according to USA Today.

“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe said, according to the newspaper. “We’ll talk all of this through.”

Rufe told USA Today that the association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but “voiced strong support” for Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing Stone’s case.

“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” she said while praising Jackson’s reputation, according to the newspaper. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.”

Jackson is set to sentence Stone on Thursday for seven charges of obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Tuesday’s meeting comes five days after the chief judge over the court on which Jackson sits issued a rare public statement following the Stone backlash. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor” when judges sentence defendants, DC District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell said.

Rufe, who serves on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, serves alongside two officers who were appointed to their respective posts by Republican presidents and two who were appointed by Democratic presidents.

Of the nine members of the executive committee, seven were appointed by former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and two were appointed by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bush.

On its website, the group says it “shall work in coordination and cooperation” with the chief justice, who presides over the Judicial Conference, the national policy making body for federal courts. A spokesperson for the chief justice declined to comment on the group’s planned meeting on Tuesday.

The FJA says it works “collaboratively” with the administrative office of the US courts — the agency within the judicial branch that provides administrative support to the federal courts — on matters of “shared interest.” A spokesperson for that office declined CNN’s request for comment on Tuesday.

CNN legal analyst and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security Carrie Cordero said on Tuesday that the group of judges could wield a substantial amount of influence over the attorney general.

“This judges’ conference, I think, is also extremely significant, because the attorney general might be able to withstand the criticism from alumni of the Justice Department. What he will not be able to withstand is a loss of confidence from the judiciary,” she told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “CNN Right Now.”

“If the attorney general loses the confidence of the judges, he’s done,” Cordero said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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