Donald Trump is receiving swift backlash for claiming without evidence that “rogue prosecutors” were possibly responsible for handing his longtime associate Roger Stone a lengthy prison sentence, as Bernie Sanders' celebrates victory in New Hampshire.
The president's comments were described as a "vile smear job" by a key witness as former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in a tweet: "Justice must be blind." Mr Trump's incendiary tweets came shortly after prosecutors said Stone should be sentenced to seven-to-nine years for lying to Congress during an investigation into Russian interference in the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, results from New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary continued to be dissected throughout the day, as Mr Sanders' strong showing appeared to place him on a clearer path to securing the Democratic nomination than ever before. Pete Buttiegieg and Amy Klobuchar, who trailed the Vermont senator respectively, have also since thanked supporters for their solid performances on Tuesday night.
The attorneys then resigned from the case after the Justice Department overruled them and said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone.
The departures on Tuesday raised immediate questions over whether Mr Trump, who earlier in the day had blasted the original sentencing recommendation as “very horrible and unfair,” had at least indirectly exerted his will on a Justice Department that he often views as an arm of the White House.
The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Mr Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
Even so, the departures of the entire trial team broke open a simmering dispute over the punishment of a Trump ally whose case has long captured the Republican president’s attention.
The episode was the latest to entangle the Justice Department, meant to operate free from White House sway in criminal investigations and prosecutions, in presidential politics.
The four attorneys, including two who were early members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia team, comprised the entire Justice Department trial team that won convictions against Stone last fall.
Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load