Two weeks after U.S. Attorney General William Barr named Timothy J. Shea, one of his top advisors at the Justice Department, as Interim U.S. Attorney for D.C., Shea became embroiled in controversy surrounding his role in overseeing the prosecution of several high profile federal cases.
Among those cases was that of Roger Stone, the longtime friend and informal advisor to President Trump who was convicted last year on seven charges that emerged from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Although Shea was not involved in prosecuting Stone during Stone’s trial in federal court in D.C., news surfaced last week that he may have played a lead role in the decision to overrule a recommendation to the judge in the case by career prosecutors at the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison.
Over the strong objection of the career prosecutors who made the sentencing recommendation, the Justice Department withdrew it and left it up to U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to decide what Stone’s sentence should be without a recommendation by prosecutors.
Inside sources initially told the Washington Post that Barr was the one who overruled the career prosecutors and ordered the office to withdraw the seven to 9-year sentencing recommendation. But Barr has since said it was Shea who made that decision. Shea has declined to comment about the sentencing flap.
In the midst of this and at least two other high profile federal cases in which Shea has been involved since becoming interim U.S. Attorney for D.C. on Feb. 3, little or no attention has been given to how Shea plans to carry out his role as the lead prosecutor of local D.C. criminal cases, including the large number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes cases that have surfaced in the past several years. Many of those cases have involved transgender women of color as victims.
D.C. is the only local jurisdiction in the nation in which a federally appointed prosecutor rather than a locally elected prosecutor oversees nearly all local criminal cases.
Shelia Miller, the media spokesperson for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office is working on responses to questions submitted by the Washington Blade asking whether Shea, 59, plans to continue the policy of reaching out to the LGBTQ community on hate crimes and other LGBTQ issues carried out by his immediate predecessor, former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu.
Liu left the office on Jan. 31 after Trump nominated her to become Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes at the U.S. Department of Treasury. But in a development that drew criticism from some law enforcement observers, Trump abruptly withdrew Liu’s nomination on Feb. 11 reportedly in response to criticism by conservative Republican operatives who say Liu was too aggressive in prosecuting figures embroiled in the Mueller investigation.
LGBTQ activists in D.C. have said Liu was among the few Trump appointees who were open to addressing concerns of the LGBTQ community. She met with LGBTQ activists to discuss her office’s policies on prosecuting hate crimes following initial concerns that the office wasn’t being aggressive enough in prosecuting hate crimes cases brought to the office by D.C. police.
In keeping with her outreach policy toward the LGBTQ community, Liu agreed to an interview with the Blade in which she discussed at length her efforts to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.
Liu arranged for her office to invite LGBTQ community leaders to attend meetings and participate in the activities of her office’s Bias Crimes Task Force, which worked on ways to improve prosecution of hate crimes cases.
Miller, the office’s spokesperson, had not responded as of late Tuesday to the Blade’s questions about Shea’s plans for addressing LGBTQ related issues, including whether he plans to continue the activities of the Bias Crimes Task Force.
Matt Lloyd, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, didn’t immediately respond to a question from the Blade asking whether Shea is under consideration for a permanent appointment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s position. Under longstanding practice, the U.S. president officially nominates candidates to become U.S. attorneys throughout the country and the U.S. Senate confirms the nominees.
Most LGBTQ rights advocates contacted by the Blade have said they are unfamiliar with Shea’s position and record on dealing with LGBTQ-related issues in his past role as a prosecutor in Virginia and Massachusetts during his long career in law enforcement and private law practice.
Robert Kabel, chair of the board of the national LGBTQ GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, said that while he doesn’t know Shea he is encouraged by Shea’s past work for two LGBTQ supportive Republican members of Congress — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and former U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte (R-Mass.).
Kabel noted that Shea also served as chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office where he was responsible for overseeing enforcement of state laws related to consumer protection, civil rights, environmental protection, and elder protection. At the time he worked there, the office was headed by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who was said to be supportive of LGBTQ rights.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, whose office prosecutes some misdemeanor criminal cases as well as criminal cases involving juvenile defendants, told the Blade in a statement that he plans to work cooperatively with Shea.
“While I’ve not worked with Mr. Shea on criminal matters, I have worked with him on civil matters while he was in private practice and will work hard to establish a relationship with him that best serves the interests of the District and its residents,” Racine told the Blade.