Prosecutors withdraw from Roger Stone's case after senior DOJ officials publicly overruled them to seek a lesser sentence for Stone

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderRoger Stone.
  • All four prosecutors who were part of the team of Justice Department lawyers handling the US government’s case against the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone withdrew from the case on Tuesday.
  • The withdrawals came after senior DOJ leadership publicly rebuked the prosecutors and sought to lower their initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone.
  • The DOJ’s top brass announced that they would seek a lesser sentence for Stone after President Donald Trump went to bat for him and called the initial recommendation “horrible and unfair.”
  • The DOJ’s Tuesday’s reversal left former career prosecutors flabbergasted.
  • “DOJ needs to register as a Republican political action committee,” Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former prosecutor who spent 12 years at the department, told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

All four Justice Department prosecutors handling the US government’s case against the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone withdrew from the case on Tuesday, hours after a senior DOJ official told reporters that the department was “shocked” by prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years.

The senior official told The Washington Post that the department “was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case” made on Monday.

“That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official said. “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offences. The department will clarify its position later today.”

The four prosecutors who subsequently withdrew after that announcement are: Aaron Zelinsky, Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed, and Michael Marando.

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.

Early Tuesday, President Donald Trump complained on Twitter about prosecutors’ initial sentencing 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!”

The DOJ’s Tuesday’s reversal left former career prosecutors flabbergasted.

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ, didn’t mince words when reacting to the news, telling Insider that the “DOJ needs to register as a Republican political action committee.”

“Impossible to overstate how alarmed people should be right now,”said Susan Hennessey, a managing editor at Lawfare who was previously an attorney for the National Security Agency.

Stone was convicted last year on seven counts of obstruction of justice, false statements, and witness tampering. The unnamed senior official told The Post that the DOJ’s decision to recommend a lesser sentence was made before Trump tweeted. But the timing of the announcement is likely to raise more questions about the coziness between Trump and the DOJ.

Those questions intensified when Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions in late 2018 and replaced him with William Barr, who has been sharply criticised as acting more like Trump’s defence lawyer, allowing him to use the DOJ as both a sword against perceived opponents and a shield for loyalists like Stone.

The special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged Stone in January 2019 with one count of obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, and one count of witness tampering, in connection with his contacts with people linked to the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks.

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.”

“I don’t see how a prosecutor *could* explain this,” Renato Mariotti, a longtime former federal prosecutor, wrote on Twitter. “Yesterday they told the judge that a sentence of seven to nine years was appropriate for Roger Stone. Today they’re supposed to argue that they were wrong yesterday? Any judge would ask: What changed between yesterday and today?”

Hennessey said that while US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing Stone’s case, is unlikely to go along with the DOJ’s shift, the move “would still give Trump cover to pardon Stone outright which presumably is the long game here.”

Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, tweeted that former DOJ employees were “absolutely freaking out” over the Stone sentencing reversal and Barr’s recent revelation that the Justice Department was working with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to set up a direct channel to obtain information Giuliani got from Ukrainian sources about former Vice President Joe Biden.

Barr’s “red carpet treatment” of Giuliani, Rocah said, is particularly unusual given that Giuliani is the subject of an SDNY investigation into his efforts to get foreign dirt on Trump’s political rival ahead of the November election.

Bradley Moss, a national-security lawyer, tweeted: “I do not envy the DOJ lawyers who are going to have to convince the judge that political pressure was not applied to suddenly backtrack on their sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.