Make no mistake about it: Attorney General William Barr is taking direct control of the cases closest to Donald Trump. He is doing so under the pretense of ordering “reviews” of Michael Flynn’s case and others that are officially being handled by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. I served in that office as a federal prosecutor for over 10 years before becoming counsel to then Attorney General Janet Reno. In my time as a federal prosecutor, I never witnessed anything remotely like Barr’s naked grab for power now.
The United States Attorney’s Offices are located within each of the 94 judicial districts in the United States, serving as each district’s “local” federal prosecutor. Although they are part of the Justice Department, they operate with a good deal of independence and, in my experience, this independence was greatly respected by the higher-ups at the Justice Department, in part because line prosecutors in U.S. Attorney offices handled a far greater volume of cases than do the sections at Main Justice. When I was a federal prosecutor in D.C. I do not remember a single instance of Main Justice, as it’s called, taking control over our cases.
But there is an even more important reason than practicality why Main Justice has respected the independence of line prosecutors. That reason is the recognition that the fair dispensation of justice requires them to be as independent as possible from political influence. This is what Barr has upended.