A government attorney says he has quit the team that has long prosecuted Trump confidant Roger Stone because the Justice Department inappropriately pressed for a more lenient sentence.
“I have never seen political influence play a role in procedural decision making, with one exception: the United States against Roger Stone,” US Attorney Aaron Zelinsky said in testimony prepared for a hearing Wednesday before the Judiciary Committee of the Camera.
Zelinsky was one of four prosecutors who withdrew from the case in February when asked to file a revised legal filing that minimized Stone’s criminal conduct and invited the judge to impose a lesser sentence. The Justice Department pressured prosecutors to “dilute and in some cases distort” the nature of Stone’s conduct, Zelinsky said.
“What I heard repeatedly was that Roger Stone was treated differently than any other defendant because of his relationship with the President,” he said. He said Tim Shea, appointed by Attorney General William Barr to act as the United States Attorney in Washington, “was receiving strong pressure from the highest levels of Justice to cut Stone a break.”
Zelinsky did not say who he believed was lobbying. But he said supervisors told him that Shea gave Stone a favorable deal “because he was afraid of the president.” One of the supervisors said that accommodating political pressure was unethical and wrong. “However, we were instructed to follow the instructions of the US Attorney. Because this case ‘was not the hill worth dying on’ and that we could ‘lose our jobs’ if we did not hit the line.” .
United States District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress about his efforts to discover what Wikileaks founder Julian Assange planned to do with the Clinton campaign emails hacked by Russians. She denied Stone’s motion for a new trial, rejecting her claim that a juror was against him.
Zelinsky and the other career prosecutors initially recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. But Barr stepped in and ordered the government to file a new court filing, saying a sentence of three to four years would be “more in line with typical sentences” in similar cases. The change came just hours after President Donald Trump tweeted that the sentence’s original recommendation was “a horrible and very unfair situation.”
Barr insisted that he acted on his own and was unaware of the president’s tweet until after he directed the change. And in a television interview, she said the president’s tweets made it difficult for her to do her job.
Stone was ordered to appear in federal prison in Georgia on June 30, but on Tuesday his lawyers asked the judge to postpone his voluntary notification date to September 3 “in light of his increased risk of serious medical consequences for exposure to COVID-19 virus in the confines “of a prison. The Justice Department does not oppose the postponement, its attorneys said.