WASHINGTON — A federal prosecutor is prepared to tell Congress on Wednesday that Roger Stone, a close ally of President Donald Trump, was given special treatment ahead of his sentencing because of his relationship with the president.
Aaron Zelinsky, a career Justice Department prosecutor who was part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and worked on the case against Stone, will say he was told by supervisors that political considerations influenced the decision to overrule the recommendation of the trial team and propose a lighter prison sentence, according to testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee.
Zelinsky now works in the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland, and his testimony will feature the extraordinary spectacle of a current prosecutor castigating decisions made by the leadership of the Justice Department where he still serves. The hearing is likely to add to scrutiny of Attorney General William Barr, who has alarmed Democrats in recent months with his efforts to scrutinize, and even undo, some of the results of Mueller’s Russia’s investigation.
“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky says in the prepared testimony.
The panel subpoenaed Zelinksy and John Elias, a career official in the department’s antitrust division, as part of its probe into the politicization of the department under Barr. The Democratic-led panel and Barr have been feuding since shortly after he took office in early 2019, when he declined to testify about Mueller’s report.
The Democrats launched the investigation earlier this year over Barr’s handling of the Stone case but have expanded their focus to several subsequent episodes in which they believe Barr is doing Trump’s bidding. That includes the department’s efforts to dismiss the criminal case against Gen. Michael Flynn and the firing last weekend of the the top prosecutor in New York’s Southern District. The prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, has been investigating the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has threatened to subpoena Barr himself for a hearing next week if he doesn’t agree to appear. The attorney general has never testified before the panel.
Zelinsky, one of four lawyers who quit the Stone case after the department overruled their sentencing recommendation, plans to say Wednesday that the acting U.S. attorney at the time, Timothy Shea, was “receiving heavy pressures from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to give Stone a break.”
He does not say who was doing the pressuring, but says there was “significant pressure” on line prosecutors to “obscure’”the correct sentencing guidelines and “water down and in some cases outright distort” what happened at Stone’s trial and the events that resulted in his conviction.
Before Stone’s Feb. 20 sentencing, Justice Department leadership changed the sentencing recommendation just hours after Trump tweeted his displeasure at the recommendation of up to nine years in prison, saying it had been too harsh. Stone was later sentenced to serve more than three years in prison plus two years’ probation and a $20,000 fine.
Barr has said Trump’s tweet played no role in the change. He said he ordered the new filing hours before the president’s tweet because he was caught off guard by the initial sentencing recommendation and believed it was excessive based on the facts of the case.
Filing a new one was a “righteous decision based on the merits,” he has told The Associated Press.