- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2020

President Trump said Tuesday he didn’t speak to the Justice Department about the sentencing of longtime confidante Roger Stone after department officials took the unusual step of reconsidering his recommended punishment and all four federal prosecutors withdrew from the case.

The president said the federal prosecutors’ initial recommendation of a prison term of seven to nine years for Stone was “ridiculous” and “an insult to our country.”

“I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It shouldn’t happen.”

SEE ALSO: Trump praises William Barr for ‘taking charge’ of Roger Stone’s case

The Justice Department said Tuesday it will take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it will seek for Stone, an announcement that came just hours after Mr. Trump complained on Twitter that the recommended sentence was “very horrible and unfair.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the matter, saying the reversal has all the indications of “improper political interference in a criminal prosecution.” The New York Democrat asked the watchdog to find out “which White House officials were involved.”

The Justice Department said the decision to shorten the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Mr. Trump’s tweet — and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. The president said the same thing.

“I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “No, I have not been involved with it at all. I didn’t speak to the judge. I’d be able to do it, if I wanted. I had the absolute right to do it.”

Soon after the Justice Department said it planned to reverse its sentencing position, one of the prosecutors in the case, Aaron Zelinsky, filed a notice with the court that he had resigned from his position as a special prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. A spokeswoman said he would remain as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

Three other prosecutors in the case — Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed and Mike Marando — also filed a motion to withdraw. Mr. Kravis also resigned from the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office.

Mr. Trump also is withdrawing the nomination of former U.S. attorney for D.C. Jessie Liu to serve as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Axios reported Tuesday night, citing two sources with direct knowledge. Her office at Justice was in charge of prosecutions that included the cases against Stone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others.

The president tweeted later Tuesday night of Stone’s case: “All starting to unravel with the ridiculous 9 year sentence recommendation!”

He also raised questions about the federal judge.

“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in Solitary Confinement, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

On Monday night, prosecutors had recommended Stone serve seven to nine years behind bars after being convicted of charges including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. The recommendation raised the prospect that Stone could receive the harshest sentence of any of the half-dozen Trump aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

In his tweet, Mr. Trump said the case against Stone was a “miscarriage of justice.”

“And then the really guilty ones, people that have committed major crimes, are getting away with it,” the president said at the White House, referring to Democrats. “I think it’s a disgrace.”

A Justice Department official said authorities decided to step in and seek a shorter sentence because they had been taken by surprise by the initial recommendation. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said prosecutors had told the department to expect a shorter recommendation.

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. Normally, U.S. attorneys have wide latitude to recommend sentences on cases that they prosecute.

Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original Justice Department recommendation. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson 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.

The judge barred Stone from social media last July after concluding that he repeatedly flouted the gag order she had placed on him.

Also, judges invariably frown upon crimes that they see as perverting the functions of the criminal justice system, such as making false statements or obstructing an investigation.

Federal prosecutors recently softened their sentencing position on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying that they would not oppose probation as punishment after initially saying that he deserved up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI. The Flynn prosecution is also being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.

The White House referred questions about the decision to the Justice Department.

In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors asked for Stone to serve between 87 and 108 months in federal prison — the sentence they said was in line with federal guidelines. They said such a sentence would send a message to deter others who might consider lying or obstructing a congressional probe or tampering with witnesses.

The prosecutors wrote in the court papers that “Stone’s actions were not a one-off mistake in judgment” and that he “decided to double — and triple — down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful.”

Stone has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not testify during his trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.

Witnesses in the case testified that Mr. Trump’s campaign viewed Stone as an “access point” to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks, which possessed more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee and tried to use him to get advance word about hacked emails damaging to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors charged that Stone lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host Randy Credico, who had landed an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, and conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.

During the 2016 campaign, Stone mentioned in interviews and public appearances that he was in contact with Mr. Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans. But he started pressing Mr. Credico to broker a contact, and Mr. Credico testified that he told Stone to work through his own intermediary.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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