(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday withdrew the nomination of a former federal prosecutor to oversee sanctions at the Treasury Department.
Jessie Liu had been the U.S. attorney in charge of the office that prosecuted Roger Stone, a political ally of Trump. The decision to pull her nomination came after the Justice Department on Tuesday reduced its recommendation for the duration of Stone’s sentence, a reversal that followed a Trump tweet criticizing prosecutors’ initial recommendation as too harsh.
Trump said on Tuesday that the initial seven-to-nine-year sentence prosecutors recommended for Stone was “an insult to our country.” Four prosecutors resigned from the case after DOJ reduced the recommendation.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to say why the nomination was pulled at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday. But he told reporters that Trump wasn’t retaliating against her.
The Trump administration hasn’t said whether the decision on Liu is linked to her role as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. She stepped down from that office last month.
Trump on Wednesday denied meddling in Stone’s criminal prosecution, saying that tweets he issued about the case don’t amount to political interference. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump didn’t answer directly when asked whether he is considering a pardon for Stone.
Trump nominated Liu in December as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. Her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee had been scheduled for Thursday.
Last March, she withdrew from consideration for the No. 3 post at the Justice Department after conservatives complained about her past association with the National Association of Women Lawyers, Bloomberg Law reported, adding that Senator Mike Lee of Utah objected because the organization supported abortion rights when she was one of its officers.
Liu told the National Review that she had parted ways with the group years ago over some of its stances.
In announcing Liu’s nomination to the Treasury position in December, the White House highlighted her work as chairwoman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, as well as her time as Treasury’s deputy general counsel. She graduated from Harvard and received a law degree from Yale.
She was nominated to replace Sigal Mandelker, who had increased the pace of economic penalties against American adversaries. Mandelker helped impose new sanctions on countries including North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. Last fall, the Treasury Department announced that she would be leaving to take a job in the private sector. Her departure left Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with several top jobs unfilled.
On Tuesday, all four prosecutors who backed a long prison term for Stone resigned from the case after the Justice Department’s decision, a stunning rebuke that suggested political interference. Stone was convicted of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Stone is to be sentenced by Jackson in Washington on Feb. 20. Judges have leeway in deciding on a sentence and need not follow the Justice Department recommendations.
On Monday, the government said in a sentencing memorandum that Stone deserved a tough prison term for his crimes because he had posted an image of the judge overseeing his case with cross-hairs next to her head. He also violated a court order by repeatedly posting about the case on social media.
But on Tuesday, the Justice Department said in a new filing that the earlier recommendation “does not accurately reflect” its position “on what would be a reasonable sentence.” While Stone’s crimes warrant jail time, they said the suggested term of seven to nine years “could be considered excessive and unwarranted.”
On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted congratulations to Attorney General William Barr for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to Trump, said the president shouldn’t make remarks on the Stone prosecution. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to be commenting on cases in the system,” Graham said.
--With assistance from Justin Sink and Saleha Mohsin.
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