February 11, 2020

Prosecutors Quit After DOJ Says It Will Override ‘Excessive’ Sentencing Guideline for Roger Stone
All four prosecutors handling Trump ally Roger Stone’s court case quit on Tuesday hours after Department of Justice headquarters stepped in to try to override their recommendation for Stone’s still-unannounced prison sentence.On Monday, prosecutors had asked a federal judge to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison. The Republican operative, who previously advised Trump’s campaign and has known the president for decades, was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing a Congressional probe. Trump reacted volcanically to news of the recommendation in a tweet sent at 1:48 a.m. on Tuesday calling it a “horrible and very unfair situation”. And within a few hours, a senior Justice Department official indicated they would override the sentencing recommendation. The official told The Daily Beast that Main Justice was “shocked” to see the seven to nine year recommendation.“The Department finds the recommendation, as it was filed, extreme and excessive and grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses,” the official said.On Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Jonathan Kravis and Michael Marando filed separate notices advising the judge they were withdrawing immediately as attorneys.A federal prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the apparent involvement of Attorney General Bill Barr in overriding the sentencing recommendation was remarkable. “We’ve long known that Trump views his political opponents as crooks and his allies as righteous, regardless of the facts or the law. That was plain from his criticism of Jeff Sessions when DOJ indicted two crooked Republican congressmen in 2018; it was plain from his continued support of Manafort up through his conviction. What’s remarkable now is that Barr appears to share that same corrupt view,” the prosecutor said.A current DOJ official said it was “not often DOJ leaps to the defense of people who threaten witnesses and judges, and who commit perjury.”President Trump insisted on Tuesday it was “ridiculous” to suggest he had any involvement in the decision. “I didn’t speak to the Justice—I would be able to—and I have the absolute right to do it if I wanted to, but I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe,” he said. Roger Stone Found Guilty of Lying to Congress to Protect TrumpHe said he thought the sentencing recommendation and the “whole prosecution” was “ridiculous” but he wouldn’t talk about a possible commutation of Stone’s sentence yet. “I think it was a disgraceful recommendation and they should be ashamed of themselves,” he added. “What they have done to General Flynn and others and then the really guilty ones, and the people who have committed major crimes and are getting away with it. I think it is a disgrace. We’ll see what happens.”In a new sentencing memo filed Tuesday, the Justice Department said Stone’s sentence should be “far less” than seven to nine years but didn’t give a new number. “The government ultimately defers to the Court as to the specific sentence to be imposed,” the new memo, submitted by interim U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea–who also signed the now-overridden memo–and John Crabb Jr., the acting chief of the Criminal Division of the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, said. The memo noted that DOJ still wanted Stone to be incarcerated but declined to say for how long.Stone, a self-described dirty trickster whose involvement with Republican Party campaigns goes back to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was convicted in November. A jury found he lied to, and withheld documents from, House Intelligence Committee investigators about his attempts to learn more about Democratic Party emails hacked by Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He also tried to pressure a witness, Randy Credico, to do the same. He will be sentenced on Feb. 20. The new sentencing memo said the judge may consider the fact that Credico–an associate of Stone who interacted with WikiLeaks–told the court he did not think Stone was serious about his threats. Those threats, which included references to the Mafia film The Godfather Part II, were part of the basis for the initial prosecutors’ justification of a seven to nine year sentence. “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds,” one message from Stone to Credico said.Jed and Zelinsky, two prosecutors who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, signed off on the initial sentencing recommendation, along with Shea, whom Attorney General Bill Barr named as interim U.S. Attorney for Washington D.C. The DOJ official told The Daily Beast that DOJ leadership decided to override the recommendation, and that the leadership had been told the prosecutors handling Stone’s case would ask for less time than what they ultimately asked for.Judge to Roger Stone: Don’t Play With MeSoon after the DOJ’s announcement, Zelinksy withdrew as an attorney and resigned “effective immediately” as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for District of Columbia, according to a court filing. He will still work in the US attorney’s office in Baltimore.Kravis, who previously worked in the White House Counsel’s office under President Barack Obama before returning to DOJ and working on some of the cases Mueller’s team brought, told the judge on Tuesday afternoon that he had “resigned as an Assistant United States Attorney” and therefore no longer represented the government.Jed, another member of Mueller’s team, dropped out later in the afternoon. He signed a court filing that erroneously called him Aaron Jed and said he was leaving the case.Inside Mueller’s New ArmyKerri Kupec, a DOJ spokesperson, said on Tuesday afternoon that DOJ officials did not consult with the White House regarding their decision to override the initial sentencing recommendation.She also said the decision was not a response to the president’s tweet, and that Barr was not aware of Trump’s views before the department decided to override the recommendation. That decision was made on Monday night, she said.During Stone’s trial, several former members of Trump’s inner circle testified that they saw Stone as the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks—a connection they hoped would produce more information on the website’s plans to publish hacked DNC emails. “Roger is an agent provocateur. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics, when you’re this far behind you’re going to have to use every tool in the tool box,” Steven Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, testified.A jury found that Stone knowingly passed along information to the Trump campaign about the emails, then lied to House investigators about it.Stone was one of the first people to join Trump’s campaign after he formally announced in June 2015. Although he left just two months later, several former officials testified Stone was still involved behind the scenes. Trump denied knowing anything about communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, a claim that flew in the face of testimony at the trial.
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