Roger Stone leaves after a state hearing in the criminal case against him filed by Special Adviser Robert Mueller at the United States District Court in Washington, USA. USA, March 14, 2019.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
A prosecutor who helped win the conviction of President Donald Trump’s friend Roger Stone is slated to tell Congress on Wednesday that the “highest levels” of the Justice Department pressured officials “to disrupt Stone.”
Aaron Zelinsky, one of four prosecutors who withdrew from the case after the department stepped in to reduce Stone’s recommended prison sentence, will testify before the Democrats-led House Judiciary Committee at a hearing on the Department’s politicization of Justice under Attorney General William Barr.
The panel hearing at 12 p.m. ET comes as Barr faces strong criticism for his handling of high-profile cases involving issues directly related to Trump. Critics have accused Barr of undermining the independence of the Justice Department by acting in ways that politically benefit Trump.
Shortly before the hearing began, a federal appeals court ordered a judge of a lower court to dismiss the criminal case against Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s first national security adviser. The Justice Department had filed a motion to dismiss the case, and Flynn’s attorneys argued that Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately grant the request.
In his prepared opening statement, Zelinsky said he personally saw the department “put significant pressure” on prosecutors “to dilute and in some cases distort” the events of Stone’s trial and his criminal conduct.
“What I heard repeatedly was that Roger Stone was being treated differently than any other defendant because of his relationship with the President,” said Zelinsky.
Stone, 67, was convicted last November for lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election and for pressuring an associate, Randy Credico, to back up his lies. During the campaign, WikiLeaks released emails stolen by Russian campaign agents from Democratic nominee chief Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
In February, the attorneys who prosecuted Stone’s case recommended a severe sentence of up to nine years in prison for Stone, a self-styled politician and longtime Trump confidant.
The president chimed in on Twitter shortly after the recommendation, calling it “shameful.”
Prosecutors said at the time that his proposed sentence was in line with federal sentencing guidelines, which are calculated according to a formula that takes into account the seriousness of the crime, the type of conduct involved, and the defendant’s criminal history.
A day after the original proposed sentence was filed, Timothy Shea, the United States’ acting attorney for the District of Columbia, requested a substantially lesser prison sentence. Zelinsky said he was told that Shea “was receiving strong pressure from the highest levels of the Justice Department to cut Stone a break.”
Federal District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone on February 20 to 40 months in prison. In April, Jackson denied Stone’s request for a new trial. Stone appealed her conviction and sentence, and asked a federal court to delay her prison surrender date of June 30, citing concerns about her health due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Zelinsky said in his opening statement that “he was explicitly told” that pressure to change Stone’s sentence was approaching “because the US attorney.” I was afraid of the president. “
“When I learned that the department was going to issue a new sentencing memorandum, I made the difficult decision to resign the case and my temporary appointment to the United States Attorney’s Office in DC instead of being associated with the actions of the Department of Justice in the sentence, “said Zelinsky. “I went back to the United States Attorney’s Office in Maryland, where I work today.”