WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After chastising the prosecutors and judge in the trial of his longtime adviser Roger Stone, President Donald Trump on Thursday criticized the jury that convicted the veteran Republican operative, raising further concerns about political interference in the U.S. judicial system.
On Twitter, Trump referred to a Fox News story that accused some of the jurors in the case of political bias. “This is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department,” Trump tweeted.
Trump early on Tuesday criticized U.S. prosecutors who recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone, whose friendship with the Republican president dates back decades. He called their sentencing recommendation “horrible” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
Just hours later, the Justice Department abandoned the recommendation of its own prosecutors. The move sent shockwaves through Washington and prompted all four prosecutors to quit the case, with one leaving the department altogether.
Trump then thanked U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a political loyalist who he appointed as the top U.S. law enforcement official last year, for “taking charge” of the case. Trump this week also tweeted criticism of U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is scheduled to sentence Stone on Feb. 20.
Stone was found guilty in November on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. His trial arose from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed extensive Russian interference in the 2016 election to benefit Trump’s candidacy.
Justice Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s latest tweet.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican and Trump defender, said on Twitter that he hoped the court would take the jury allegations seriously if the media report was accurate, calling it “not fair.”
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani also called for an investigation into the jury forewoman. She could not be immediately reached for comment.
Critics have said Trump’s comments on the case erode the independence of the U.S. judiciary. Trump and the White House have defended his remarks, adding that he has not had direct talks with the Justice Department about the matter.
“This is the commander-in-chief, this is the top law enforcement officer, and he’s got a right to his opinion,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told Fox News on Thursday.
Republicans in Congress have largely shrugged off Trump’s comments, while Democrats have called for investigations. Barr is due to testify before a House of Representatives panel next month.
Stone was one of several close Trump associates charged in Mueller’s investigation, which Trump called a “witch hunt.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican who led the panel’s separate inquiry into Russian election interference, said it was up to the judge to decide appropriate prison time for Stone.
After mentioning Stone and Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in a separate trial stemming from the Mueller investigation, Burr told Reuters on Wednesday: “I’ve investigated these guys, and they’re all bad. Period.”
Jackson this month also rejected Stone’s request for a new trial. Stone’s supporters are pushing for presidential pardon, something Trump declined to discuss when asked by reporters on Wednesday.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham