The Justice Department gave Roger Stone “unprecedentedly favorable treatment” because of his longtime relationship with President Trump, a former prosecutor on the case is expected to tell Congress Wednesday.
“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Aaron Zelinsky, one of the career Justice Department officials who prosecuted Stone will say in an opening statement released Tuesday.
Mr. Zelinsky is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Democratic-lead House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating allegations of political interference by Attorney General William P. Barr. A Department antitrust attorney and a former official in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department will also testify.
Mr. Zelinsky and three other prosecutors resigned from the Stone case in February after Justice Department leadership overruled their recommendation for a stiff seven-to-nine-year prison sentence for Stone, who was convicted of witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstructing its Russia investigation.
The recommendation created a political firestorm in Washington with Democrats accusing Attorney General William P. Barr of doing favors for the president’s friends.
A federal judge ultimately sentenced Stone to just over three years in prison.
Mr. Zelinsky is set to tell lawmakers the Justice Department wanted a light sentence for Stone because of his connection to Mr. Trump.
“In the many cases I have been privileged to work on in my career, I have never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making. With one exception: United States v. Roger Stone,” he will say, according to a prepared statement released by the committee.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea was pressured at “the highest levels of the Department of Justice” to go easy on Stone, Mr. Zelinsky is expected to say.
“I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President,’” Mr. Zelinsky will say. “That explanation was deeply unsettling.”
Mr. Zelinksy says his conclusions are based on what he observed first hand in terms of how Stone’s sentencing was handled by the Justice Department and what his supervisors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered as an explanation for why the department wanted to downgrade Stone’s sentence.
Meanwhile, John W. Elias, an attorney in the department’s antitrust unit, will tell Congress that Mr. Barr overruled career department officials to scrutinize a pact between four automakers and the state of California to reduce emissions.
Mr. Elias, a 14-year veteran of the department, said he was so concerned by the attorney general’s actions, he asked the Justice Department inspector general to investigate.
“I asked him to investigate whether these matters constituted an abuse of authority, a gross waste of funds, and gross mismanagement,” Mr. Elias will say, according to his prepared remarks.
He will also testify that Mr. Barr pushed investigations into marijuana industry mergers, even though that industry was too decentralized to warrant antitrust scrutiny, raising concerns from career officials.
Mr. Elias will tell lawmakers the head of the department’s Antitrust Division, conceded the investigations were prompted because “the cannabis industry is unpopular “on the fifth floor,” a reference to where Mr. Barr’s office sits in the Justice Department’s headquarters.
“Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation,” Mr. Elias will say.