Prosecutor says he was pressured to cut Roger Stone ‘a break’ because of his ties to Trump

Zelinsky’s testimony is an astonishingly surprising public rebuke of the Justice Department’s leadership by an acting official. And it comes as Barr faces increasing scrutiny over actions that Justice Department veterans and Democrats have described as dangerous violations of the Justice Department’s independence from politics. The Justice Department did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

Barr recently triggered the alarms when he sought Friday night to remove Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, US Attorney Geoff Berman, after falsely claiming that Berman had agreed to resign voluntarily. On Monday, Judicial Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (DN.Y.) began a process to subpoena Barr for a hearing on July 2; House leaders have rejected calls by progressive Democrats to consider removing him.

Zelinsky alleges that after Stone was convicted last year for repeatedly lying to Congress and intimidating a witness, Justice Department leaders relied on him and three other Stone prosecutors to deviate from typical sentencing practices. Prosecutors had prepared in early February to present a sentencing recommendation that they said reflected Stone’s long-term lie to prevent an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a serious national security problem. But Justice Department leaders said they should break department policy and issue a lighter recommendation, Zelinsky says.

“[W]A supervisor told us that the US Attorney. USA He had political reasons for his instructions, and our supervisor agreed that he was unethical and wrong, “says Zelinsky.” 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 didn’t hit the line. “

But the four prosecutors persisted and were eventually told to present their sentencing recommendation on February 10, but to omit descriptions of Stone’s conduct. Hours later, just before 3 am on February 11, Trump attacked prosecutors in the case, calling for his seven to nine-year recommendation, which was based on sentencing guidelines that prosecutors routinely employ, ” horrible and very unfair. “

“I cannot allow this judicial error!” Trump tweeted.

Hours later, news reports circulated citing a “senior Justice Department official” suggesting a new sentencing recommendation would be presented. The four prosecutors in the case were never allowed to view the new memo, which was filed and called for a reduced sentence for Stone. None of the prosecutors in the case signed the memo, which Zelinsky called “virtually unprecedented.”

Eventually Zelinsky and his three colleagues withdrew from the Stone case. One, Jonathan Kravis, completely resigned from the Justice Department. Soon after, the Justice Department submitted a new sentencing recommendation for Stone signed only by Acting Prosecutor Timothy Shea.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson largely agreed with the reasoning in the initial sentencing memo, although she decided on a sentence lower than that recommended by prosecutors: 40 months.

“I am not here to criticize the sentence that Judge Jackson imposed in the case or the reasoning that he used,” says Zelinsky. “It’s about the process and the fact that the Justice Department treated Roger Stone differently and more forgiving in ways that are virtually unprecedented.”

Stone is due to appear in jail on June 30, but Trump has strongly hinted that he will either forgive him or commute his sentence, telling Stone in a recent tweet to “sleep well at night.”

Elias, the other key witness for the Judiciary Committee, served as chief of staff for the antitrust division from January 2017 to the end of 2018, said he reported on investigations into marijuana mergers and an investigation into car emissions to the Inspector’s office. Justice Department general due to concerns that they were not properly motivated by politics

Elias, a 14-year veteran of the antitrust division, said Barr personally ordered the antitrust division to carry out lengthy reviews of 10 cannabis deal mergers, including the $ 682 million merger between MedMen and PharmaCann that was later suspended. due to regulatory delays.

“Rejecting the analysis of career personnel, Attorney General Barr ordered the Antitrust Division to issue Second Request subpoenas,” Elias said, referring to exhaustive reviews of mergers undertaken by the antitrust division in cases where an agreement raises antitrust concerns. . “The reason for doing so focused not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the nature of his underlying business.”

Investigations into the cannabis deals required companies to turn in thousands or millions of documents, and at one point represented five of the eight active investigations at the agency, he said.

Elias also expressed concern over an investigation into whether BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen illegally agreed to adopt California’s strictest fuel emission standards. The leadership of the antitrust division opened the civil antitrust investigation the day after Trump tweeted about California reaching an agreement with the companies, Elias said. The investigation was recommended by policy staff, and the investigators “expressed concern about the objective and legal basis of the investigation.”