Mueller prosecutor will testify that DOJ leaders sought a weaker sentence for Roger Stone because they were 'afraid of the president'

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty ImagesUS Attorney General William Barr arrives for the event where US President Donald Trump signs an executive order on police reform, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2020.
  • A Justice Department prosecutor who worked on the government’s case against the former GOP strategist Roger Stone will testify to Congress this week that senior leadership improperly interfered in Stone’s sentencing recommendation for political reasons.
  • The prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, worked on the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team during the FBI’s Russia probe, and Stone’s conviction was one of the most high profile victories they secured.
  • In February, senior DOJ officials publicly overruled Zelinsky and other prosecutors working on the case to seek a more lenient sentence for Stone, one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies.
  • “What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky will testify, according to his opening statement, which was obtained by The New York Times.
  • He will tell Congress that the US attorney for the District of Columbia was under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break,” and that he complied with Attorney General William Barr’s command for a weaker sentence because he was “afraid of the president.”
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A prosecutor who worked on the Justice Department’s case against the former Republican strategist Roger Stone will testify to Congress this week that senior officials improperly interfered in the sentencing recommendation for Stone because of political reasons.

The prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, worked on the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team during the FBI’s Russia investigation. Stone’s conviction on seven felony counts of obstruction, witness tampering, and false statements was one of the most high profile victories they secured.

The charging document against Stone contained a slew of details about his false statements to Congress about his interactions involving WikiLeaks; his extensive communications with the far-right commentator Jerome Corsi and the radio host Randy Credico about WikiLeaks’ document dumps in summer 2016; and his prolonged efforts to prevent Credico from testifying to Congress or turning over information to the FBI.

In their original sentencing recommendation, prosecutors wrote that “a sentence consistent with the Guidelines is appropriate based on the nature and extent of Stone’s conduct, the length of time it transpired” – nearly two years – “and the matter of significant national importance that it centered upon.”

After senior department leaders interfered with the sentencing recommendation at the direction of Attorney General William Barr, Zelinsky and the three other prosecutors working on Stone’s case withdrew as counsel for the government.

The DOJ’s new sentencing memo in Stone’s case was signed only by John Crabb, Jr., the acting head of the criminal division of the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC.

“What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky will testify, according to a copy of his opening statement submitted to the House Judiciary Committee ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. The New York Times first reported on the statement.

Zelinsky will tell lawmakers that a supervisor on the case told him that there were “political reasons” to seek a more lenient sentence for Stone, even though the supervisor acknowledged that doing so “was unethical and wrong.”

Zelinsky, who now works at the US attorney’s office in Maryland, will testify that senior Justice Department leaders ignored concerns that he and other prosecutors on the case raised both in writing and in conversations. Their “objections were not heeded,” Zelinsky will say.

Barr’s order to ask for a weaker sentence in Stone’s case also came shortly after he had Jessie Liu, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, removed from her position and replaced her with Timothy Shea, a close ally from his own office, in an acting capacity.

Hours before the DOJ reversed its own prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation, Trump complained on Twitter about the initial recommendation.

“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” Trump tweeted. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Zelinsky will tell Congress that Shea was under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break,” and that he complied with Barr’s command because he was “afraid of the president.” Zelinsky will also say that officials told him and other prosecutors on the case that this was “not the hill worth dying on” and that they may be fired if they didn’t comply with Barr’s directive.

John Elias, who currently serves as a senior official in the DOJ’s antitrust division, will testify alongside Zelinsky at Wednesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. According to The Times, Elias is expected to tell lawmakers that under Barr’s leadership, multiple other actions and cases have also been killed while others have been pursued despite having a shaky legal basis.

Elias plans to testify that the DOJ abused its antitrust power to investigate ten proposed mergers and acquisitions in the marijuana industry because Barr “did not like the nature of their underlying business.”

He will tell lawmakers that after antitrust staff expressed concerns about being used as a tool to harass firms, the head of the division convened a staff meeting and “acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the D.O.J. headquarters building.”

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