One of the prosecutors who quit the Roger Stone case in disgust over interference from Attorney General Bill Barr will tell the House Judiciary Committee that the “highest levels of the Department” wanted to spare Stone, a friend of the president’s, years of prison time.
“What I heard—repeatedly—was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,” according to a statement from Aaron Zelinsky, one of ex-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors.
In February, Zelinsky and three colleagues resigned from the Stone prosecution after Timothy Shea, then the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, recommended a substantially shorter prison term than the seven to nine years Zelinsky recommended. Stone was convicted of lying to Congress about his interactions with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional inquiry. Shea was a former senior aide to Barr who now runs the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Zelinsky’s statement calls out Shea by name as “receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations.” He called the department’s pursuit of a sentence shorter than its own sentencing guidelines “unheard of” for an “unrepentant” defendant like Stone, who threatened the judge presiding over his case. The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison.
“I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President,’” Zelinsky said of Shea.
Zelinsky’s testimony, delivered after the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed him, will come at professional risk. He remains a federal prosecutor in Maryland. An attorney for Zelinsky, the former Office of Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt, declined to comment.
According to Zelinsky, Shea and his team attempted at least three times in February to get the Stone prosecutors to agree to a reduced sentence. First they requested that Zelinsky’s team not apply the full term the sentencing guidelines suggested. When Zelinsky—along with Adam Jed, Jonathan Kravis, and Michael Marando—refused, Shea’s team told them “to say that whatever the Guidelines recommended, Stone should get less.” They rejected that, as well.
Finally, Shea provided “an instruction” to omit from their sentencing memorandum references to Stone’s conduct at trial, such as a threat to Berman that Stone posted on Instagram. Zelinsky says in his statement that he threatened to resign on Feb. 10. Trump rapidly attacked his team’s sentencing memorandum as a “miscarriage of justice.”
Zelinsky criticized the more lenient memorandum Shea’s office produced as “unethical” in a colloquy with a Department colleague that he references in his prepared statement.
“I take no satisfaction in publicly criticizing the actions of the Department of Justice, where I have spent most of my legal career. I have always been and remain proud to be an Assistant United States Attorney,” Zelinsky closes his prepared remarks by saying.
Zelinsky will be joined by DOJ antitrust colleague John W. Elias, who will testify about antitrust investigations under Barr that concerned him enough to bring them to the department inspector general's attention. Wednesday’s hearing is slated to feature no Justice Department witnesses on Barr or Shea's behalf, though former Attorney General Michael Mukasey is also scheduled to testify.
The committee’s Democratic majority is in open conflict with Barr over everything from the similar leniency shown to ex-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to Barr’s specially deputized federal police during the D.C. Black Lives Matter protests to Barr’s deceitful attempt at firing the acting U.S. attorney in New York. Last month, they requested a Justice Department inspector general inquiry into Barr’s “politicization” of numerous department actions.
But the House Democratic leadership, having lost its fight to impeach Trump, is reluctant to attempt removing Barr from office—meaning that Wednesday’s hearing with Zelinsky may be a high-water mark for pressure on the attorney general.
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