WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal prosecutor is prepared to tell Congress on Wednesday that Roger Stone, a close ally of President Donald Trump, was given special treatment prior to his conviction because of his relationship with the president.
Aaron Zelinsky, a prosecutor in the Justice Department who was on the team of Special Adviser Robert Mueller and who worked on the case against Stone, said supervisors told him that political considerations influenced the decision to close the case. to ignore the investigation team’s recommendation and propose a lighter jail sentence, according to a statement from the House Judiciary Committee.
Zelinsky now works in the U.S. law firm in Maryland, and his testimony will include the extraordinary spectacle of a current prosecutor who dismisses the decisions of the Justice Department leadership where he still serves. The hearing will likely add to the critical eye of Attorney General William Barr, who has alarmed Democrats in recent months about his efforts to scrutinize and even reverse some of the results of Mueller’s investigation in Russia.
“What I have heard repeatedly was that Roger Stone was treated differently from other defendants because of his relationship with the President,” Zelinsky said in the prepared testimony.
The panel summoned Zelinksy and John Elias, a career officer in the department’s antitrust division, as part of its investigation of the department’s politicization under Barr. The Democrat-led panel and Barr have been arguing shortly after taking office in early 2019 when he declined to testify about Mueller’s report.
The Democrats started investigating Barr’s handling of the Stone case earlier this year, but have expanded their focus to several subsequent episodes in which they think Barr offers Trump. That includes the department’s efforts to dismiss the criminal case against General Michael Flynn and the resignation of the supreme prosecutor in New York’s Southern District last weekend. Prosecutor Geoffrey Berman investigated the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has threatened to sue Barr himself for a hearing next week if he does not agree to appear. The Attorney General never testified before the panel.
Zelinsky, one of the four attorneys who quit the Stone case after the department quashed their sentence, plans to say on Wednesday that then-US lawyer, Timothy Shea, “was under heavy pressure from the top level of the Justice Department to give Stone a break. ‘
He does not say who exerted the pressure, but said there was “significant pressure” on prosecutors to “cover up” and “water down” and, in some cases, downright distort “,” what happened during Stone’s trial. and the events that followed in his conviction.
Before the sentencing of Stone on February 20, the Justice Department leadership changed the sentencing recommendation just hours after Trump tweeted his dismay on a recommendation of up to nine years’ imprisonment because it was too harsh. Stone was later sentenced to over three years’ imprisonment plus a two-year probation period and a fine of $ 20,000.
Barr has said Trump’s tweet played no part in the change. He said he ordered the new application hours before the President’s tweet because he was overwhelmed by the initial conviction and was, in fact, excessive.
Filing a new one was “a fair decision based on earnings,” he told The Associated Press.
According to his prepared testimony, Zelinsky will report that he learned from the media that the Department of Justice intended to override the investigative team’s recommendation, which he found unusual given the ministry’s usual practice of not commenting on Affairs.
Although the U.S. law firm initially said the reports were false, the team was later told a new sentence would be issued seeking a lighter sentence for Stone.
“We have repeatedly asked to see that new memorandum before it was submitted. Our request was declined, “Zelinsky will say. “We were not informed of the content or content of the proposed application, nor even who wrote it. We were told that a potential version of the application personally attacked us. ‘
Zelinsky says he was also told that the acting US attorney gave Stone unprecedented favorable treatment for being “afraid of the President.”
Justice Department spokesman Kerri Kupec said Barr had ordered Shea to leave the conviction to the judge, who eventually sentenced Stone to a significantly shorter prison term than the prosecutors initially asked.
In particular, Mr. Zelinsky, a prosecutor, had no discussion with the Attorney General, the United States Attorney, or any other member of the Department’s political leadership regarding the conviction; instead, Mr. Zelinksy’s claims about the motivation of the American lawyer are based on his own interpretation of events and rumors (at best), not first-hand knowledge, “Kupec said in a statement.
Stone was convicted on all seven counts of a criminal charge that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness, and obstructing the home investigation of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 elections.
On Tuesday, Stone filed a motion asking for his surrender date to be extended to September due to concerns about the corona virus. He is due to report to a federal prison in Georgia on June 30.
In a separate testimony released by the committee, Elias plans to conduct antitrust investigations that he says have been initiated in response to career staff objections. He said that he asked the Inspector General of the Division to investigate “whether these cases were an abuse of authority, a gross waste of money and a gross offense”.
The Justice Department said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees with Mr. Elias’s allegation that the antitrust department has acted improperly in any investigation.”
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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