Wednesday’s hearing with Aaron Zelinsky, a prosecutor on former Special Adviser Robert Mueller’s team, and John Elias, a career official in the Antimonopoly Division, was the prelude to the impending showdown between Barr and the House Democrats who charged Barr from abusing his office on multiple fronts
The Zelinsky and Elias allegations represented a severe public reprimand from Barr, who critics say has taken multiple actions to protect Trump and rewrite the history of Mueller’s investigation, from distorting Mueller’s findings to dropping the charges secured by the team. of Mueller vs. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn
Zelinsky, who now works in the Maryland US Attorney’s Office, told the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the Justice Department’s recommendation for sentencing for Trump’s friend and adviser, Roger Stone, was watered down due to political pressure from the ” higher levels “of the Justice Department as a result of” Stone’s relationship with the president. ” Zelinsky, who brought Stone’s case to court, said in response to questions from House Judiciary President Jerry Nadler that Barr’s decision in Stone’s case was incorrect, unethical and contrary to policy. from the Department.
“I was told that there was strong political pressure from the highest levels of the Justice Department to interrupt Roger Stone,” said Zelinksy.
Republicans charged that the Democrats’ allegations were wrong, arguing that it was actually the Obama administration that politicized the Justice Department by investigating members of the Trump team. Representative Louie Gohmert interrupted the opening statement of a witness who exceeded the time limit in protest at the process.
The charges against Barr at a House Judiciary Committee hearing came at the same time that Barr agreed to testify before the committee next month, in what would be his first appearance before the panel since his confirmation, after Nadler, a Democrat. from New York, he had threatened. a summons
Elias accused Barr of ordering investigations into 10 cannabis company mergers because he did not like the industry, and charged that the political leadership in the Antitrust Division launched an investigation into California’s emission standards last year after a tweet from the president who attacked the state agreement with automakers. .
Elias said he and another whistleblower reported their concerns about the cannabis company’s investigations to the Justice Department inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel, which they are investigating.
“We are investigating that, we might as well,” Nadler said Wednesday. When asked what changed, Nadler said, “I think the weight of the evidence and what happened leads to that conclusion.”
Republicans clash with Zelinsky
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, accused the Obama administration of politicizing the Justice Department by investigating members of the Trump team, pointing to the appeals court ruling on Wednesday. that the charges against Flynn should be dropped immediately. .
“They are not politicians, they are right,” Jordan said. “Bill Barr just wants to get to the bottom of all this, and somehow that’s all political, when in reality politics was in the previous administration.”
Republicans got involved in various interruptions as the hearing began, raising procedural objections to Zelinsky’s remote statement. When a witness exceeded the five-minute limit during opening remarks, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas repeatedly knocked on his desk to protest, prompting some Democrats to call for his expulsion.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat from Florida, admonished Jordan while acting as president for not wearing a mask, after Nadler instructed everyone who did not speak to wear them inside the committee room.
“The unmasking of this committee should be concerned with the unmasking that occurred at the end of the Obama administration,” Jordan replied.
Republicans asked Zelinsky several questions about episodes during the Mueller investigation that Zelinsky said he was not allowed to discuss because his agreement with the Justice Department limited his testimony to the Stone ruling and what was in the Mueller report.
Kupec said in a statement Tuesday that Zelinsky did not discuss Stone’s sentence with Barr, and that his allegations were based on rumors.
‘It is not a difficult calculation’
Stone’s case that Zelinsky described on Wednesday has become one of the most notable clashes between career lawyers and Trump’s political appointees, adding to a growing shadow over Barr’s tenure as attorney general.
Mueller had originally charged Stone, along with the DC United States Attorney’s Office, as essentially a final judgment near the end of the Russia investigation.
Four prosecutors, including Zelinsky, brought Stone on trial last fall, alleging that Trump’s old friend had vigorously tried to cover up his WikiLeaks search as the organization prepared to reveal stolen Democratic documents.
A jury found Stone guilty on seven counts, including telling five lies to a Republican-led Congressional committee in 2017, obstructing the House investigation in Russia and threatening a witness who will testify before Congress.
Before his sentencing, the US Attorney’s Office in DC calculated that Stone deserved up to nine years in prison for the crimes. But Barr forced the United States Attorney’s Office to overturn the recommendation, softening it for Stone. Zelinsky and his three colleagues at the trial dropped the case because of Barr’s intervention. He said Wednesday that he was warned that he could lose his job if he did not ease the approach to Stone.
“They also told him that the acting (Federal Prosecutor Timothy Shea) was treating Roger Stone favorably because he feared President Trump, is that correct?” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, asked Zelinsky. “Yes,” said Zelinsky.
Zelinsky added that he was pressured to return his team’s descriptions of the consequences of the manipulation of Stone’s witnesses.
“It was not a difficult calculation” for Stone’s sentence, given the severity of his crimes, Zelinsky said, defending his work. “We swore an oath to prosecute without fear.”
Zelinsky also reiterated Wednesday prosecutors’ findings that Trump and Stone spoke during the campaign multiple times, and that a witness, former campaign vice president Rick Gates, testified at Stone’s trial that the two spoke about the WikiLeaks releases. .
The topic has come back into the spotlight in recent days, as Stone has been concerned about a presidential pardon and delaying his scheduled jail date, and after the Justice Department reissued the report. de Mueller describing how extensively witnesses described the campaign’s interest in WikiLeaks and the possibility that Trump lied in sworn written responses to Mueller.
Department of Justice investigations into cannabis probes
The Justice Department’s independent inspector general and the executive branch’s Office of Special Counsel are reviewing whether the Justice Department investigated cannabis companies due to political sentiment against them, Elías said Wednesday.
After he discussed it at his hearing, a memo obtained by CNN further showed the route that whistleblower complaints took over cannabis investigations.
In summary, Elias and another anonymous whistleblower raised their concerns with Inspector General of Justice Michael Horowitz and the Office of the Special Adviser, another agency created to receive whistleblower complaints. The OSC forwarded the complaint it received to DOJ’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility, which responded on June 11 that it did not believe there was reason for an investigation and closed its investigation.
The Antitrust Division, “under the direction of the Attorney General’s Office, imposed these demands on the merged cannabis companies to stem the growth of the cannabis industry due to the animosity of the Justice Department’s leadership towards the industry,” according to a Letter from the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility summarizing the review.
The OPR finding was “puzzling to me,” Elías replied during his testimony.
Elias’ lawyer David Seide of the Government Accountability Project said after the hearing on Wednesday that independent investigations by the Justice Department were ongoing.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Wednesday.
CNN’s Evan Perez and Austen Bundy contributed to this report.