Roger Stone, departs following a status hearing in the criminal case against him brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to endorse the Justice Department’s controversial decision to overrule career prosecutors and recommend a shorter prison sentence for Trump’s longtime friend, Roger Stone, for crimes related to the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, in a tweet, congratulated the department’s chief, Attorney General William Barr, “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Just two days earlier, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., recommended that a judge give Stone a harsh sentence of between seven and nine years in prison.
That proposal on Tuesday came under attack from Trump, who raged against not only the severe recommended sentence but also the judge overseeing Stone’s case.
Hours later, the Justice Department said it would take the unusual step of revising the sentencing recommendation. Timothy Shea, the new U.S. attorney for Washington, filed another sentencing memorandum Tuesday, calling for Stone to receive “far less” time behind bars.
On the same day, all four prosecutors involved in Stone’s trial dramatically quit the case in apparent protest of the about-face on the sentencing request. One of those prosecutors resigned from the government altogether.
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, speaks to William Barr, U.S. attorney general, during the 38th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Day service at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.
Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Democrats condemned the Justice Department’s move.
“Attorney General William Barr should be ashamed and embarrassed and resign as a result of this action directly interfering in the independent prosecution of Roger Stone,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Wednesday.
Blumenthal called Trump’s actions “Simply the latest examples of political interference by the president to alter the independent decisions of the Department of Justice.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking on the Senate floor, said, “What is more swampy, what is more fetid, what is more stinking than the most powerful person in the country literally changing the rules to benefit a crony?”
Schumer has asked the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, to “immediately investigate” the decision to weaken Stone’s sentencing recommendation.
“This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Horowitz on Tuesday.
Stone, 67, was convicted at trial last fall of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, and for pressuring an associate, Randy Credico, to endorse his lies. WikiLeaks during the election released emails stolen by Russian agents from the chief of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and from the Democratic National Committee.
The revised court filing did not recommend a specific prison term for Stone. DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told NBC News that the reversal was made before Trump’s first tweets complaining about the initial sentencing request.
Wednesday morning on Twitter, the president also slammed the investigation in which Stone’s charges were brought: former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
“Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!” Trump tweeted. Mueller has not been credibly accused of lying during his testimony before Congress in July.
Trump also targeted the four prosecutors who withdrew from Stone’s case.
“Who are the four prosecutors (Mueller people?) who cut and ran after being exposed for recommending a ridiculous 9 year prison sentence to a man that got caught up in an investigation that was illegal, the Mueller Scam, and shouldn’t ever even have started?” Trump tweeted.
But the prosecutors’ recommendation was not “exposed.” Rather, it was submitted to the public court docket in Stone’s case, and was supported in a 26-page memo that stressed the seriousness of his offenses and the fact that he was fully aware of the crimes being committed.
Stone’s lawyers, in their own sentencing proposal submitted late Monday night, had asked the judge to deliver a sentence of probation that would keep him out of prison.
Trump attacked that judge, Amy Berman Jackson, suggesting that she had treated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort worse than notorious mobster Al Capone.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led Democrats’ impeachment efforts in Congress over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, tore into Trump for putting his thumb on the scale in Stone’s case.
“For the president now to intervene, through his attorney general, to seek lighter sentences for people who are covering up his own this conduct is just an egregious violation of the rule of law,” Schiff said Wednesday.
“I think we are seeing a dismantling of the post-Watergate reforms, like nothing, we’ve seen in decades,” Schiff added.