Federal prosecutors resign after DOJ overrules them and seeks shorter sentence for Roger Stone
Roger Stone. Photo from Shutterstock.com.
Updated: The U.S. Department of Justice is overruling federal prosecutors who sought a sentence of seven to nine years in prison on Monday for political consultant Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump.
Two prosecutors who sought the longer sentence have resigned their jobs and withdrawn from the case, they told the court in filings (here and here) on Tuesday. Two other prosecutors also withdrew from the case, but their court filings did not say they resigned their jobs.
The Washington Post describes the decision on Tuesday to reduce the recommended sentence as “a stunning rebuke of career prosecutors that will surely raise questions about political meddling in the case.”
Trump had tweeted early Tuesday that the seven-to-nine year recommendation “is a horrible and very unfair situation.” He also tweeted, “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
But an unnamed DOJ official who spoke with several publications said the DOJ did not discuss its decision to overrule federal prosecutors with the White House or Trump.
The unnamed official told the Washington Post that the DOJ “finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
The two prosecutors who resigned their jobs are Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis of Washington, D.C., and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron S.J. Zelinsky.
Zelinsky had been a member of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team before working on Stone’s case on special assignment. A spokesperson told the Washington Post that Zelinsky is resigning as a special assistant but will continue working as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.
Stone was convicted for lying to Congress about his contacts with the Trump campaign regarding WikiLeaks and its plans to release documents damaging to Hillary Clinton. He was also convicted on charges of obstructing the congressional probe of Russian influence and witness tampering.
The witness tampering charge was related to his attempt to influence radio commentator Randy Credico to back up Stone’s false story that Credico had been Stone’s intermediary to WikiLeaks.
The sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of only 15 to 21 months in prison for first-time offenders convicted of obstruction offenses, according to the Washington Post. But the recommendation increases based on aggravating factors such as willful obstruction of justice or substantial interference with the administration of justice. The career prosecutors had cited those factors.
Career prosecutors had also pointed to an Instagram post by Stone that pictured the judge in his case with what appeared to be a crosshairs in the background near her head. They also said Stone had threatened Credico’s dog and wrote a message to Credico that read, “Prepare to die.”
Credico has said he didn’t take the threats seriously.
In a new sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday afternoon, the government says imprisonment is warranted, but the sentence initially recommended “could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.”
The memo says the government is deferring to the court on the specific sentence.
The new sentencing memo says the prior sentencing recommendation had applied sentencing enhancements that may be “technically applicable” but could be viewed as “unduly high.”
If the enhancement for threatening a witness with physical injury is not applied, the advisory sentencing guideline would be 37 to 46 months in prison, the new memo says. The memo points out that Credico said he never felt a genuine threat to himself or his dog.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that prosecutors should apologize to Stone for recommending a sentence of up to nine years in prison, the New York Times reports. “You have murderers and drug addicts that don’t get nine years,” Trump said.
Asked whether would pardon Stone, Trump replied, “I don’t want to say that yet, but I tell you what, people were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people.”
Trump’s remarks were a continuation of earlier criticism on Twitter. On Tuesday evening, he had tweeted: “Who are the four prosecutors (Mueller people?) who cut and ran after being exposed for recommending a ridiculous 9 year prison sentence to a man that got caught up in an investigation that was illegal, the Mueller Scam, and shouldn’t ever even have started?”
One of his tweets also targeted the federal judge in Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, the Washington Post reported. The judge had also sentenced Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and had dismissed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi attack.
“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”
Jackson was not responsible for the conditions of Manafort’s confinement, the Washington Post pointed out.
Following Trump’s criticism, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez issued a statement Wednesday condemning personal attacks on judges or prosecutors.
The statement reads: “The American Bar Association steadfastly supports judicial independence and the sound exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Public officials who personally attack judges or prosecutors can create a perception that the system is serving a political or other purpose rather than the fair administration of justice.
“It is incumbent upon public officials and members of the legal profession, whose sworn duty it is to uphold the law, to do everything in their power to preserve the integrity of the justice system,” Martinez wrote.
Story updated Feb. 11 at 4:40 p.m. to report on the new sentencing memo. Story updated Feb. 12 at 4:34 p.m. to report on Trump’s criticism and the statement by ABA President Judy Perry Martinez.