Trump’s relationship with Roger Stone influenced lenient prison sentence, says prosecutor

Justice Department whistleblower expected to make the case to Congress on Wednesday

Nicholas Fandos,Charlie Savage,Katie Benner
Wednesday 24 June 2020 10:45 BST
Trump interference in Roger Stone case is 'abuse of power' Pelosi says

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Senior law enforcement officials intervened to seek a more lenient prison sentence for Donald Trump’s friend and ally Roger Stone for political reasons, a former prosecutor on the case is expected to testify before Congress on Wednesday, citing his supervisor’s account of the matter.

“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” the prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, said in a written opening statement submitted on Tuesday to the House Judiciary Committee ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

Mr Zelinsky is expected to be joined by another current Justice Department employee, John Elias, a senior career official in the antitrust division, who will tell the committee that under William Barr’s leadership as attorney general, the division was forced for political reasons to pursue unjustified investigations of the fledgling legal marijuana industry and an anti-pollution pact between California and several car manufacturers.

Democrats have portrayed both men as whistleblowers who are covered by laws protecting civil servants who share information with Congress. Their emergence now, as Mr Barr battles questions over the abrupt firing last week of the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan who led investigations into Mr Trump’s associates, is certain to fuel charges by Democratic and some Republican critics that the attorney general has corruptly bent the department to meet Mr Trump’s interests and his own.

Mr Zelinsky and three fellow career prosecutors recommended to a judge in February that Stone receive seven to nine years in prison, in line with standard guidelines, for perjury and other crimes related to his sabotaging of a congressional inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and links to the Trump campaign.

A department spokesperson said that the attorney general determined that prosecutors’ recommendation for Stone’s sentence was “excessive and inconsistent with similar cases” and noted that a judge ultimately sentenced Stone to about half the time — 40 months — that the prosecutors had originally proposed.

But as Mr Trump attacked that sentencing recommendation on Twitter, the department began to work on a new, more lenient recommendation to the judge meting out Stone’s punishment. The four prosecutors quit the case, and the request was submitted without their signatures.

Mr Zelinsky will say that a supervisor working on the case told him there were “political reasons” for more senior officials to resist and then override prosecutors’ recommendation to follow the sentencing guidelines and that the supervisor agreed that doing so “was unethical and wrong”.

The New York Times

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