A federal prosecutor who withdrew from the Roger Stone case in protest will testify Wednesday that the political interference he witnessed in the case was “unprecedented,” reaching the “highest levels” of the Justice Department. In his opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee, assistant U.S. attorney Aaron Zelinsky writes that he had “never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making — with one exception: United States v. Roger Stone.”
Zelinsky, a career Justice Department line attorney since 2014, withdrew from the Stone case earlier this year along with three other career DOJ prosecutors after their superiors undercut their original sentencing recommendation for Stone to make it lighter. In his opening statement, Zelinsky said that he repeatedly heard Stone was “being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President.” That special treatment, Zelinsky added, ran afoul of every “ethical and legal obligation” he had been taught about dealing with defendants equitably and fairly.
Zelinsky used the word “unprecedented” five times throughout his 13-page opening statement to describe the Justice Department’s actions regarding Stone. According to his account, the handling of the case was unprecedented, the decision to override the original sentencing recommendation was unprecedented, the filing not including the signature of any line attorney was unprecedented, the leniency Stone was given was unprecedented, and the treatment Stone was getting from the acting U.S. attorney overseeing the case—toady of Attorney General William Barr—was unprecedented.
“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,” writes Zelinsky. “I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President.’” What do ya know—Barr installed a gutless wonder into that position after he ousted the office’s former U.S. attorney, Jessie Liu.
Zelinsky said he and his fellow line attorneys working the case objected to the interference both in writing and verbally, but “our objections were not heeded.”
What Zelinsky describes is a Department of Justice in complete and utter moral and ethical decay under William Barr’s stewardship. Zelinksy will surely elaborate on those themes during the Judiciary Committee hearing on threats to the department’s prosecutorial independence on Wednesday at 12 PM ET.
Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec issued a statement in response to Zelinsky’s written testimony saying that Barr himself “determined” the original sentencing recommendation for Stone was “excessive and inconsistent with similar cases.” The statement also claims Barr never spoke with Trump about “the sentencing” of Stone and “made the decision to correct the filing before the President tweeted about the case.”
Noted: Barr’s his own man and supposedly didn’t take any Twitter orders from Trump.
But confirmed: the “highest levels” at DOJ definitely interfered.