Prosecutors quit Stone case after DOJ backtracks on sentencing
Justice Department attorneys have notified the court that they are withdrawing from the case, less than a day after Trump tweeted that their initial sentencing recommendation was ‘unfair.’
The Justice Department’s extraordinary decision to undermine an earlier sentencing recommendation for longtime Donald Trump ally Roger Stone this week has prompted several of the federal prosecutors on the case to withdraw in protest.
According to NBC News, lead prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky withdrew from the case Tuesday afternoon. The outlet reported that Zelinsky, who served on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team, would retain his job with the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, but would be departing the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s office.
A second prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, resigned “both from the case and his job as an assistant U.S. attorney” according to NBC News.
Around the same time, the Justice Department issued a new sentencing recommendation in Stone’s case, stating that “the defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration that is ‘sufficient, but not greater than necessary’ […].”
“Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,” it concluded.
The Justice Department’s decision to shorten Stone’s sentencing recommendations was announced earlier on Tuesday, following a tweet from Trump in which he complained about a “miscarriage of justice,” though officials claimed they had made their decision before Trump commented on the matter.
Initially, prosecutors had recommended Stone, who was convicted of witness tampering and obstruction of justice in November, serve seven to nine years in prison.
Stone’s actions, which were unearthed during Mueller’s nearly two-year-long probe, “were not a one-off mistake in judgment,” they wrote in a sentencing memo filed Monday evening. “Nor were his false statements made in the heat of the moment. They were nowhere close to that.”
“Stone’s conduct over the past two years shows the low regard in which he holds the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and this very criminal case,” they added.
Early Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that the decision to seek such a long prison sentence was “unfair.”
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” he wrote at 1:48 a.m. EST. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Hours later, the Justice Department announced it had made the astonishing decision to shorten that recommended sentence.
An unnamed official told Fox News Trump’s comments had not influenced that decision, which they claimed was made prior to his tweet.
“The Department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the filing in the stone case last night,” the official said. “The sentencing recommendation was not what had been briefed to the Department.”
Stone was convicted last November on seven counts of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice.
As the Associated Press noted Tuesday, it is “extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court.” Typically, attorneys are given “wide latitude” on their sentencing recommendations.
“Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original Justice Department recommendation,” the outlet added, noting that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing Stone’s case, has “repeatedly scolded Stone for his out-of-court behavior, which included a social media post he made of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.”
Stone eventually deleted that image and apologized but was still barred from speaking publicly about the case.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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