The Inspector General’s Office of the Justice Department has launched an investigation into officials’ interference in the sentencing of long-time Donald Trump confidant and convicted felon Roger Stone, sources have told NBC News.
The probe is reportedly examining the details of what happened in February when prosecutors said DOJ bosses applied “heavy pressure” to ensure a far lighter sentence for Stone than what was initially planned.
Attorney General William Barr ultimately intervened to override prosecutors’ recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone to ask for a lighter sentence. All four prosecutors then quit the case in dissent.
The current probe was triggered by complaints from lead prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky to Congress, a source told NBC.
Zelinsky testified before the House Judiciary Committee in June that Timothy Shea, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia at the time, told him to lighten up on the sentence because of Stone’s close personal relationship with Trump. Shea was “receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break,” and his “sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations,” Zelinsky testified.
Stone was convicted of seven felonies, including lying in congressional testimony and witness tampering in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Stone dodged even his shortened 40-month prison sentence when Trump commuted his sentence entirely in July. Stone dropped an appeal of his conviction and remains a convicted felon.
Stone came very close to indicating that the commutation of his sentence was his reward for keeping his mouth shut about other information that investigators may have found interesting. Referring to Trump, Stone told NBC journalist Howard Fineman: “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”
Barr defended his decision to shorten Stone’s sentence in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. His said it was unfair for Stone to serve a long sentence for a nonviolent crime, given his age, 67.
Stone just last week called on the president to declare “martial law” and seize control of the nation unless the “real winner” of the November presidential election — implying Trump, though Americans have yet to vote — is declared victorious.
The DOJ is now scrambling to defend its actions in the case of another Trump crony — the president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Justice officials took the unprecedented action of moving to drop charges against Flynn. They did so even though Flynn had pleaded guilty — twice — to lying to the FBI about secret negotiations with Russia’s ambassador shortly before Trump moved into the White House.
A new friend-of-the-court brief in the case blasted the DOJ action as “corrupt” and a “politically motivated favor unworthy of our system of justice.”
“In the United States, Presidents do not orchestrate pressure campaigns to get the Justice Department to drop charges against defendants who have pleaded guilty — twice, before two different judges — and whose guilt is obvious,” stated a brief by retired federal Judge John Gleeson.
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