While holding firm in its promise to prosecute Jan. 6 offenders to the max, the U.S. Justice Department made a curious move last week. It withdrew its own plea deal with two lawyers accused of using Molotov cocktails in 2020 during George Floyd protests in New York City and allowed the defendants to plea to different charges that carried less prison time.
The rare reversal by DOJ in the case of attorneys Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman in federal court in New York stunned some legal watchers and added to a pattern of recent cases that some see as evidence of a two-tier system of justice.
The argument first surfaced among conservatives during the Russia collusion scandal when a defendant like Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was pressured to plead guilty to lying to the FBI while the bureau’s then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was allowed to escape any punishment for allegedly lying during an internal investigation. McCabe even got the pension he was stripped of restored.
But that argument has long since escaped the boundaries of the Russia case to other investigations far and wide in America.
For instance, anger and disbelief boiled over last month in the Olympic gymnast community when DOJ announced it wasn’t taking any action against two ex-FBI agents who botched the Larry Nassar sex abuse case, despite evidence they had given false answers to the department’s internal probe.
Sheepishly, the DOJ insisted the get-out-of-jail pass for the former G-men “does not in any way reflect a view that the investigation of Nassar was handled as it should have been, nor in any way reflect approval or disregard of the conduct of the former agents.”
A lawyer representing some of the victims saw it differently.
“The continued failure by the Department of Justice to criminally charge the FBI agents, U.S.A. Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials who conspired to cover up the largest sex abuse scandal in the history of sport is incomprehensible,” attorney John Manly said.
The optics of disparate treatment again raised howls this weekend when former Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro, a 72-year-old academic with a spotless criminal record, was handcuffed and shackled after being indicted for contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. Exactly a decade earlier, then-Attorney General Eric Holder escaped punishment when DOJ — his own department — declined to prosecute him for defying a similar congressional subpoena in the Fast and Furious scandal.
“Peter Navarro was charged with contempt of Congress by a monopartisan Committee,” conservative write Ben Domenech tweeted. “He got shackles. Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress by a bipartisan vote of 255-67. He went out to dinner that night. And DC wonders why people believe in the Swamp.”
Another conservative writer, Ben Weingarten, contrasted Navarro’s arrest with the jury acquittal days before of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann on a charge of lying to the FBI.
That case exposed not only a jury’s admitted willingness to look past a lie to the FBI but also the cozy relationship the bureau enjoyed with Sussmann’s Democrat-stacked law firm, which included a secure work space sanctioned by the bureau and emails allowing the law firm to edit a government statement about its client.
“It sends an unmistakable message: We can get you anytime, anywhere, on any grounds we choose,” Weingarten wrote on Monday. “You can’t touch even a single one of ours.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a freshman firebrand and relentless defender of gun rights, went to the House floor in recent days to attack another example. She questioned how Hunter Biden, the president’s son, managed to falsely deny drug abuse on his federal firearms application and avoid any prosecution when his father is now seeking to target many lawful gun owners.
“Hunter Biden lied on a federal firearms application, which is punishable by up to 10 years and a 250,000 fine, of which 10 percent will not be going to the ‘Big Guy,”‘ Boebert said. “Rules for thee, but not for my crackhead parmesan-smoking, gun-criminal son.”
But the case of the New York lawyers with the Molotov cocktails caused many to take note, including George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a self-described liberal Democrat.
Turley noted in his blog Monday that the two lawyers were given a “generous” new plea deal after being “accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle in New York. They were facing domestic terrorism charges and the possibility of 30 years in jail. Now, however, they will be allowed to withdraw the earlier plea and instead plead guilty to conspiring to assemble the Molotov cocktail and damage the New York Police Department patrol car.
“That is a nosebleed of a drop in the severity and punishment for this violent attack,” he added. “It is a sharp contrast to the harsh position taken by the Biden Justice Department on many of those accused of rioting on January 6th. Attorney General Merrick Garland cited the threat to police officers in pledging an unprecedented effort to charge and convict those involved on any level in the riot.”