Former top Robert Mueller prosecutor is set to tell Congress of political interference from the ‘highest level’ of the Justice Department during the prosecution and sentencing of longtime Donald Trump advisor Roger Stone, according to prepared testimony.
Aaron Zelinsky, one of the career prosecutors who resigned from the Stone case after main Justice directed in a reversal on sentencing for Stone, plans to tell the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that he saw ‘significant pressure’ on prosecutors working the Stone case.
That pressure came despite Stone making false statements to Congress that obscured the picture of his contacts with purported intermediaries to WikiLeaks over hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 elections, Zelinsky will say. Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Roger Stone leaves Federal Court after a sentencing hearing February 20, 2020, in Washington, DC. Aaron Zelinsky is one of four prosecutors who took themselves off the case when top DOJ officials did a 180 on their recommended sentence for the longtime Donald Trump advisor. Zelinsky says there was ‘heavy pressure’ to go easy on Stone
‘What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case 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 said, in testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee in connection to its probe of alleged politicization in the Justice Department.
‘What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,’ said Zelinksy.
‘Such pressure resulted in the virtually unprecedented decision to override the original sentencing recommendation in his case and to file a new sentencing memorandum that included statements and assertions at odds with the record and contrary to Department of Justice policy,’ he added.
Aaron Zelinsky was a top prosecutor for former Special Counsel Robert Mueller who had himself taken off the Roger Stone case after the Justice Department changed its posture. He says he saw ‘significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct sentencing’
Pressure came from the ‘highest levels’ of the Justice Department, Zelinsky will testify. Attorney General Bill Barr has criticized the original sentencing memo
Stone is a longtime friend and advisor of Donald Trump’s
Zelinsky did not name his sources in his written statement, but he leveled serious charges amid calls outside Congress to rev up impeachment probes – if not for the president then for Attorney General Bill Barr.
‘I was told that the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, 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,’ he said.
‘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 quit the case after Shea came out for a lighter sentence than had been recommended. A federal judge is now continuing to review the matter.
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of up to nine years in prison before DOJ intervened. But Zelinsky says he learned the U.S. Attorney’s office was being ‘pressured’ to make an ‘inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range,’ in part by dropping ‘enhancements’ for Stone’s conduct before trial.
Those enhancements related to such activity as witness intimidation and obstructing a House Intelligence Committee probe.
Zelinsky writes that he ‘immediately and repeatedly raised concerns, in writing and orally, that such political favoritism was wrong and contrary to legal ethics and Department policy,’ as did other prosecutors. ‘Our objections were not heeded,’ he will testify.
Another witness, John Elias, plans to tell the committee he reported antitrust investigations undertaken by Barr to the DOJ’s Inspector General.
‘I have undertaken whistleblower activity, and am here today, because I recognize the imperative for law enforcers to operate even-handedly and in good faith,’ Elias will say.
He mentioned a series of antitrust probes of the cannabis industry, undertaken not due to their involvement with a controlled substance.
‘While these were nominally antitrust investigations, and used antitrust investigative authorities, they were not bona fide antitrust investigations. Nonetheless, they accounted for 29 percent of the Antitrust Division’s full-review merger investigations in Fiscal Year 2019,’ he will say.
Barr ordered a ‘second review’ of a merger that required a burdensome response. ‘The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the nature of their underlying business’ says Elias, who serves as the chief of staff of the top anti-trust official at DOJ.
He also testifies that political leadership in the division undertook an investigation of automakers who announced they would collaborate on stricter air standards a day after the president fired off angry tweets on the subject. The New York Times had reported Trump was ‘enraged’ by the deal.
‘Barr’s conduct is disgraceful. He should resign,’ said House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Trump in February congratulated Barr for ‘taking charge’ of the case, which he has called part of the ‘witch hunt.’ Barr publicly asked Trump to stop tweeting about ongoing criminal cases.