The Justice Department plans to reduce its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Trump, after top officials professed to be blindsided by the seven-to-nine-year penalty prosecutors urged a judge to impose.
In a stunning rebuke of career prosecutors that immediately raised questions about political interference in the case, a senior Justice Department official said the department “was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case last night.”
“That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive case.
“The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses. The department will clarify its position later today.”
The statement came hours after Trump tweeted about the sentence prosecutors recommended, saying: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
In response, prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky filed a notice withdrawing from the case this afternoon.
The filing notes that Zelinsky has resigned as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C.
Senate Democrats plan to examine the Justice Department’s decision.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Stone should serve all of the seven- to nine-year prison sentence originally recommended by prosecutors.
Stone was convicted by a jury in November of obstructing Congress and witness tampering.
His was the last conviction secured by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Stone has been a friend and adviser to Trump since the 1980s and was a key figure in his 2016 campaign, working to discover damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Former Justice Department officials and those on the political left asserted the department’s abrupt shift on Stone was an egregious example of the president and his attorney general bending federal law enforcement to serve their political interests.
David Laufman, a former Justice Department official, called it a “shocking, cram-down political intervention” in the criminal justice process.
“We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept.,” he wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said the move amounted to “obstruction of justice.”
“We are seeing a full-frontal assault on the rule of law in America,” Pascrell said. “Direct political interference in our justice system is a hallmark of a banana republic. Despite whatever Trump, William Barr, and their helpers think, the United States is a nation of laws and not an authoritarian’s paradise.”
Attribution:The Washington Post