Top Justice Department leadership put “heavy pressure” on a top federal prosecutor to cut former Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone a break in his sentencing, a former prosecutor on the case plans to tell the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Aaron S.J. Zelinsky will tell Congress that he repeatedly heard that Stone “was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,” according to prepared testimony.
Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering, ultimately received a sentence of 40 months in prison after DOJ leadership intervened in the case.
Zelinksy will say that Stone’s case was handled in an “unusual and unprecedented way” and that leadership put “significant pressure” on line prosecutors to “obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject ― and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.”
Zelinsky will tell the House Judiciary Committee that acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea, a close associate of Attorney General William Barr, “was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations.”
“I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President,’” Zelinsky will testify.
“To be clear, my concern is not with this sentencing outcome,” Zelinsky will tell lawmakers. “It is about the process and the fact that the Department of Justice treated Roger Stone differently and more leniently in ways that are virtually, if not entirely, unprecedented.”
Zelinsky will say that he has “never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making ... with one exception: United States v. Roger Stone.”
When a supervisor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia thanked Zelinsky for his work on the case, Zelinsky’s prepared testimony says he responded that he continued to believe that “changing a sentencing recommendation based on political considerations and the fact that the U.S. attorney was ‘afraid of the President’ (in your words) was wrong, contrary to DOJ policy, and unethical, at a minimum.”
Kerri Kupec, a spokesperson for Barr, said in a statement on Tuesday evening that Barr had “determined the high sentence proposed by the line prosecutors in the Roger Stone case was excessive and inconsistent with similar cases” and directed Shea to leave the sentencing to the judge’s discretion in “the interest of ensuring the imposition of a fair sentence.”
Kupec reiterated that Barr “did not discuss the sentencing of Roger Stone with the President or anyone else at the White House and had made the decision to correct the filing before the President tweeted about the case.”
Kupec’s statement called Zelinsky’s allegations “hearsay (at best)” because he lacks first-hand knowledge of the political leadership’s actions in the Stone case. She said Barr “has and will continue to approach all cases at the Department of Justice with that commitment to the rule of law and the fair and impartial administration of justice.”
The statement did not explain why Barr chose to get involved in the Stone case and whether he made a regular habit of reviewing the thousands upon thousands of sentencing recommendations that the Justice Department makes each year. Kupec did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s question about whether she could point to any other case where the attorney general intervened to advocate for a more lenient sentence.
At Wednesday’s hearing, another Justice Department official in the antitrust division will testify that Barr intervened in cases involving marijuana company mergers because “the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building.”
Read Zelinsky’s opening statement below.