Ex-Roger Stone prosecutor says DOJ pressured to give Trump ally ‘a break’

Roger Stone, departs following a status hearing in the criminal case against him brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

A prosecutor who quit the criminal case of President Donald Trump‘s ally Roger Stone in protest is set to tell Congress on Wednesday that the “highest levels” of the Department of Justice had pressured officials “to cut Stone a break.”

Aaron Zelinsky, one of four prosecutors who withdrew from the case after the department stepped in to lower Stone’s recommended prison sentence, will testify before the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee in a hearing on politicization of the DOJ under Attorney General William Barr.

The panel’s 12 p.m. ET hearing comes as Barr has faced heavy criticism for his handling of high-profile cases involving matters directly related to Trump. Critics have accused Barr of undermining the independence of the Justice Department by acting in ways that benefit the president politically.

A copy of his opening statement shows Zelinsky is set to tell the panel that he personally saw the department “exerting significant pressure” on prosecutors “to water down and in some cases outright distort” the events of Stone’s trial and his criminal conduct.

“What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,” Zelinsky says in his statement.

Zelinsky also says he was told that Timothy Shea – the acting U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., who asked a judge for a sentence of “far less” than what prosecutors had originally recommended – “was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.”

Stone, 67, was convicted last November of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, and for pressuring an associate, Randy Credico, to endorse his lies. WikiLeaks during the election released emails stolen by Russian agents from the chief of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and from the Democratic National Committee.

In February, the attorneys prosecuting Stone’s case recommended a severe sentence of up to nine years in prison for Stone, a self-described political trickster and longtime confidant of Trump.

The president had weighed in on Twitter shortly after, calling that lengthy recommendation “disgraceful!”

Prosecutors said at the time that their proposed sentence was in line with federal sentencing guidelines, which are calculated according to a formula that takes into account the severity of the crime, the type of conduct involved, and a defendant’s prior criminal history.

A day after the original proposed sentence was filed, Shea filed a revised memorandum in U.S. District court in Washington requesting a substantially lower prison term for Stone.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Feb. 20 sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison. In April, Jackson denied Stone’s request for a new trial. Stone appealed his conviction and sentence, and has asked a federal court to delay his June 30 prison surrender date, citing concerns for his health due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zelinsky says in his opening statement that he “was explicitly told” that the pressure to change Stone’s sentencing was coming “because the U.S. Attorney was ‘afraid of the President.'”

“When I learned that the Department was going to issue a new sentencing memo, I made the difficult decision to resign from the case and my temporary appointment in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. rather than be associated with the Department of Justice’s actions at sentencing,” Zelinsky’s statement says. “I returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, where I work today.”

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