(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department filed an updated sentencing memorandum in its case against Roger Stone late Tuesday afternoon, noting that the previous recommendation of seven to nine years against President Donald Trump’s longtime friend and former campaign adviser “would not be appropriate” and instead said it “defers to the court.”
At about the same time, the entire team of federal prosecutors involved in Stone’s case withdrew.
Earlier Tuesday, in another stunning development that raised questions about possible political interference, the department announced it would reverse course on its sentencing recommendation for Stone, only hours after Trump himself reacted to the recommendation by calling it a “miscarriage of justice.”
Even as the four federal prosecutors involved in the case notified the court they were withdrawing, it was not immediately clear whether their withdrawals were an act of protest of the reversal. Aaron Zelinsky, one of two prosecutors who served on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, announced he was resigning his position from the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. while maintaining his position as an assistant attorney in the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland.
In a separate filing, Jonathan Kravis filed his notice of withdrawal from the case while stating he has also “resigned as an Assistant United States Attorney.”
Another prosecutor who served on Meuller’s team, Adam Jed, filed his notice of withdrawal shortly after the other Zelinsky and Kravis. Prosecutor Michael Mirando also withdrew.
In the new sentencing filing, prosecutors note that “it remains the position of the United States that a sentence of incarceration is warranted” – but stops short of a specific amount of time — while saying the seven to nine years originally recommended “would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case,” arguing that “could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.”
“Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,” prosecutors said in the new filing.
About the same time as the new filing, President Trump told reporters he did not speak to the Justice Department when asked about the Stone case at an Oval Office event Tuesday afternoon. “I stay out of things to a degree people wouldn’t believe,” he said, But I did not speak to them” while adding he had the “absolute right” to get involved.
“I thought that the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought that the whole prosecution was ridiculous. And I look at others who have not been prosecuted or where it is now. But when you see that, I thought that it was an insult to the country. It shouldn’t happen. We will see what goes on there, but that was a horrible, aberration,” Trump said.
“We’ll see what goes on there. The same Mueller people that put everybody through hell. No, I have not been involved in it at all,” Trump said.
The president declined to say whether he would consider commuting Stone’s sentence down the road, saying “I don’t want to talk about that now” and immediately returned to blasting the “disgraceful recommendation.”
Federal prosecutors had told a federal judge on Monday that Stone should be sentenced to serve seven to nine years in prison after jurors found him guilty last November on all seven counts brought against him by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The charges, brought against Stone in January 2019, included five counts of lying to Congress, one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of a proceeding.
The official insisted that senior leadership of the department were not kept in the loop on the recommendation that federal prosecutors put forward in court Monday evening.
“The department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation,” the official, who requested anonymity to speak about the department’s internal deliberations, said. “This was not what had been briefed to the department and the department thinks the recommendation was extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses and the department will clarify its position later today at the court.”
DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec told reporters that the decision by department leadership to reverse course on the recommendation for Stone’s sentencing length came before the president’s tweet. Kupec declined to provide further specifics on the discussions or which members of leadership were involved.
Trump reacted to the initial Stone filing just after midnight in a tweet.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” Trump said. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
It was not immediately clear what “crimes” the president was referring to “on the other side.”
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! https://t.co/rHPfYX6Vbv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
Kupec also said there was no contact between the White House and Justice Department leadership regarding the Monday evening’s filing prior to the decision made to reverse course.
In response to DOJ’s sentencing recommendation change, Roger Stone attorney Grant Smith told ABC News, “Our sentencing memo stated our position on the recommendation made yesterday by the government. We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing.”
In court papers filed on Monday, the prosecutors outlined in detail their case from Stone’s trial, highlighting each count against him and citing the incidents that led to Judge Amy Berman Jackson gradually issuing stricter gag orders against Stone in the months leading up to his trial.
The charges filed against him revolved around Stone’s sworn testimony in September 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee. Specifically, Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress about conversations he had about hacked material published by WikiLeaks that Russian military hackers allegedly stole from the Democratic National Committee and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Stone was also charged with witness tampering by urging his former associate, Randy Credico, to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights before the committee.
“Stone knew the gravity of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation when he obstructed it by giving false testimony and tampering with a witness,” government lawyers wrote in their sentencing memo filed Monday. “Indeed, Stone acknowledged as much in his opening statement before the Committee. Stone chose — consciously, repeatedly, and flagrantly — to obstruct and interfere with the search for the truth on an issue of vital importance to all Americans.”
Prosecutors later added, “Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness. And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law. For that, he should be punished in accord with the advisory Guidelines.” The guidelines range for Stone’s sentencing is 87-108 months in prison, or seven to nine years.
In response, Stone’s lawyers disputed the sentencing guidelines outlined by federal prosecutors in the defense’s sentencing memo filed late Monday night, arguing Stone’s convicted offenses do not warrant the high sentencing range of seven to nine years in prison that the government is recommending.
After presenting their argument against the prosecution’s proposed sentencing guidelines, Stone’s attorneys wrote to Judge Jackson, “It is respectfully submitted that the Court should impose a non-Guidelines sentence of probation with any conditions that the Court deems reasonable under the circumstances.”
Jackson is scheduled to sentence Stone on Feb. 20.
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