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Justice Department drama is temporarily overshadowed by New Hampshire primary results

Posted February 12, 2020 12:49 a.m. EST

— Right now I'm watching a speech by NH primary victor Bernie Sanders, but I wish Michael Marando or Jonathan Kravis were speaking instead.

Earlier I caught portions of a speech by Joe Biden, but I'd rather hear from Aaron S.J. Zelinsky or Adam Jed.

Zelinsky, Marando, Kravis, and Jed all withdrew from the legal proceedings against President Trump's pal Roger Stone on Tuesday. As CNN.com's story explains, they withdrew "after top Justice Department officials undercut them and disavowed the government's recommended sentence against Stone." Justice's flip-flop came just hours after Trump (via Twitter) publicly criticized the tough proposed sentence for his friend.

Justice officials claimed that they thought the recommendation was excessive and that Trump's opinion was not a factor at all. That's why I wish the four prosecutors were speaking. How long will we have to wait before we hear from the people at the center of this story?

The latest from NH

Cable news channels focused on the NH primary results on Tuesday night, and for understandable reasons — the results were fascinating and the channels were uniquely equipped for this type of story. Two Democratic candidates dropped out when the polls closed, and others limped to South Carolina. The primary was a big deal. But it also stole attention from the goings-on in DC. And it was hard not to wonder if the timing was purposeful...

The latest from DC

WaPo went with a split front page, with the primary on one side and the prosecutors on the other side:

The paper's story noted that some DOJ employees see a "continuing pattern of the historically independent law enforcement institution being bent to Trump's political will."

The NYT's Wednesday front page led with the DOJ drama — a second story was titled "Alarm in Capital as Axes Swing In Growing Post-Acquittal Purge" — while the primary results were squeezed off to the side.

Axios broke the news of another potential example on Tuesday evening — Trump "withdrawing his nomination" for former U.S. attorney for D.C. Jessie Liu for a Treasury Department post. Liu oversaw the Stone case and other key Mueller-related cases.

"Today's events represent as serious a moment as I have seen in 13+ years covering the Justice Department. The alarm coming from Democrats and Republicans who served there is remarkable," NPR DOJ correspondent Carrie Johnson tweeted...

What Tuesday felt like

It felt like a gathering storm. First there was one prosecutor who had withdrawn... then two... then three. And once the fourth and final prosecutor from the Stone case withdrew, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said that "many DOJ alums who don't stress or freak out easily are deeply disturbed at the unprecedented politicization of DOJ. I haven't seen or heard from a single DOJ alum — of any political or ideological inclination — who thinks this is remotely OK."

Notably, Fox News broke the news about the DOJ flip-flopping on the sentencing recommendation. According to the NYT, the prosecutors "were especially upset because they were not told about the decision to intervene until after Fox News first reported it late Tuesday morning."

Despite breaking the news, Fox downplayed the DOJ developments on Tuesday afternoon/evening, even while other news outlets scrambled to follow up. This WaPo headline stood out to me: "Trump escalates campaign of retribution as Republican senators shrug." Key words: Republican senators shrug...

FOR THE RECORD

-- Democratic senator Brian Schatz tweeted: "The DOJ itself appears to have been corrupted by a President who rewards his friends and punishes his enemies. Media should treat this like a potentially explosive abuse of power even if this takes more than ten seconds to explain..." (Twitter)

-- David A. Graham writes: "The president is bestowing favor on his loyal defenders, and visiting revenge on those he feels have betrayed him..." (The Atlantic)

-- RCP's Sean Trende: "I've been nursing a theory that Trump's job approval is up in part because the Democratic primary and impeachment have pushed his behaviors out of the news. Like this Stone punishment recommendation would be a major story but it'll barely register because of NH..." (Twitter)

Back to NH now...

-- At 11:30pm ET, Bernie Sanders was in first place, the projected winner in Tuesday's primary... Pete Buttigieg was in second, Amy Klobuchar was in third, and Elizabeth Warren was a distant fourth, followed by Joe Biden in fifth...

-- "While Pete Buttigieg is certainly a frontrunner, and right now they might be neck and neck in delegates, Bernie Sanders is THE Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination," Jake Tapper said. "Take a step back. He is 78 years old, he is a Democratic socialist, he is a Jewish American, originally from Brooklyn — it is a stunning achievement by Senator Sanders and for his movement."

-- Earlier in the evening, Tapper reacted to Biden's poor performance this way: "No one has ever come in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire and then gone on to win the nomination..."

-- One of the top conclusions on Tuesday night: "We've *finally* moved into the phase when debates matter, unlike the rest of the previous year when debates have done pretty much nothing to impact the race," Peter Hamby wrote...

-- To that point, Amy Klobuchar "won 30 percent of those who called the most recent ABC News debate important in their decision," according to the exit polls...

-- Andrew Yang is out of the race. S.E. Cupp tweeted: "I didn't back a lot of @AndrewYang's policies. But I sure did back his attitude, energy, civility and respect for all kinds of voters. I hope every other candidate can take a little from his campaign going forward..."

-- Michael Bennet is also out of the race. Several twitterers pointed out that his brother, NYT editorial board editor James Bennet, who had recused himself from the paper's 2020 discussions, will now be able to involve himself again...

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