Senior law enforcement officials stepped in to seek a more lenient prison sentence for President Trump’s friend and ally Roger J. Stone Jr., for political reasons, a former prosecutor in the case is expected to testify before Congress on Wednesday, citing the account of his immediate import supervisor.
“What I heard, repeatedly, was that Roger Stone was being treated differently than any other defendant because of his relationship with the President,” prosecutor Aaron SJ Zelinsky said in a written opening statement filed Tuesday with the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives. from Wednesday’s hearing. The New York Times obtained a copy.
Mr. Zelinsky will say that a supervisor working on the case told him there were “political reasons” to shorten prosecutors’ initial sentencing guidelines and that the supervisor agreed that doing so “was unethical and wrong.” Mr. Zelinsky said that he and his fellow prosecutors expressed concerns in writing and in conversation, but that their “objections were not addressed.”
Mr. Zelinsky did not say in his written statement who he was referring to. Attorney General William P. Barr directed the intervention days after he maneuvered the Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie K. Liu, out of office and installed in his place as interim U.S. attorney, a close assistant from his own office. Timothy shea
Mr. Zelinsky plans to say he was told that Mr. Shea “was receiving strong pressure from the highest levels of the Justice Department to cut Stone off a break” and he obeyed because he was “afraid of the President.” Mr. Zelinsky is expected to testify that he and other line prosecutors were informed that the case “was not the hill worth dying on” and that they could lose their jobs if they did not align.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Mr. Zelinsky and three fellow prosecutors eventually withdrew from the case in protest, after department officials voided their recommendation that Mr. Stone receive between seven and nine years in prison, according to standard guidelines. Officials presented a new, more lenient recommendation to the judge about Mr. Stone’s punishment.
Mr. Zelinsky, a prosecutor in Baltimore, had been briefed in Washington to continue working on the Stone case that began while working for special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. While Mr. Zelinsky worked on the case while assigned to the Washington office, he never met or discussed the case with Mr. Shea, according to two people familiar with internal conversations about the Stone case.
Stone was convicted of seven serious crimes committed in an effort to prevent a congressional investigation that threatened Trump. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison in February and is due to report later this month, although he has said he is seeking a delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee convened the meeting to highlight what they say is inappropriate politicization of the federal justice system by Mr. Barr.
Mr. Zelinsky is expected to join another current Justice Department employee, John W. Elias, a senior career official in the antitrust division, who will tell the committee that under Mr. Barr’s leadership, other actions by department that have received significantly less attention have also been tight. Democrats have portrayed both men as whistleblowers who are covered by laws that protect public officials who share information with Congress.
According to Mr. Elias’s written opening statement, he will accuse the department of improperly using its antitrust power to investigate 10 proposed mergers and acquisitions in the marijuana industry because Mr. Barr “did not like the nature of his underlying business.” The Times also obtained a copy of the statement.
The reviews consumed a lot of the division’s resources, he said, and the demands for documents placed a heavy burden on the companies, which, due to objections from career staff, were forced to produce hundreds of thousands of pages that the department in some cases don’t even look.
At least one merger failed and stock prices fell as a result, he said, even though there was never a justification in the competitiveness analysis, such as whether companies trying to merge would have too much market share, for using antitrust powers to essentially harass companies.
Elias said that after division staff voiced concerns, division chief Makan Delrahim held a full staff meeting in September and “acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular “on the fifth floor, ‘a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the Justice Department headquarters building.”
He added: “Personal aversion to industry is not an adequate basis on which to base an antitrust investigation.”
Mr. Elias’ statement also portrayed an antitrust review of an agreement reached by four major automakers with the State of California to voluntarily continue to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions in new cars, despite the setback in standards. by the Trump administration, as politically motivated rather than fact-based and law-based.
Trump had attacked the deal on Twitter, and the division began its review without going through normal procedures, Elias said.
“The day after the tweets, the political leadership of the antitrust division instructed staff to initiate an investigation that day,” he wrote.
When asked for an answer, another Justice Department official familiar with the investigation argued that it was opened due to news reports that the companies had reached an agreement between them, creating potential antitrust concerns, not because Trump was angry. .
Elias also said the department had all the information it needed to close the investigation without action in November, but “political leadership” asked them to examine California’s announcement that it would only buy cars that met the standards, a dubious basis for An antitrust investigation, he said, as the state buys less than 2,700 vehicles a year, a small portion of the market, to continue the investigation until February.
While the testimony of the two current Justice Department officials on internal deliberation is expected to be the centerpiece of the hearing, the panel will also take testimony from two former Republican Justice Department officials from previous administrations: Donald Ayer, who was the deputy attorney general President George Bush and Michael Mukasey, who was the attorney general of President George W. Bush.
Mr. Yesterday has been an outspoken critic of Mr. Barr, whom he served. Republicans on the committee invited Mr. Mukasey.
The hearing comes amid a whirlwind of new questions about Mr. Barr’s actions in the department, after he abruptly expelled the federal prosecutor in Manhattan last week, who led several investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates. The prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman, initially and publicly resisted Mr. Barr’s pressure to step aside, sparking a furor among Democrats and former Justice Department officials who warned that the White House was trying to force him to leave because he continued with sensitive cases that bothered Mr. Trump.
The Judicial Committee is in talks with Mr. Berman, but is not expected to appear on Wednesday.
Democrats can subpoena Mr. Barr himself as early as this week to testify. The attorney general and House Democrats have a long and difficult history dating back to their handling of the Mueller report. Democrats have accused Mr. Barr of corrupting the department at Mr. Trump’s behest, infusing partisan policies into key investigations and political decisions.
Mr. Barr has never testified before the panel, which oversees the Justice Department. Previous attempts to schedule hearings ended in disputes over terms or, in one case, due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Even if the House issued a subpoena, chances are good that this time is no different. Mr. Barr has said he is not free to testify while the pandemic is in full swing, and his department has a history of simply defying certain Democratic subpoenas.