Prosecutor quits after Trump, DOJ call Roger Stone sentence request too harsh
Two federal prosecutors in Roger Stone’s criminal trial abruptly withdrew from the case Tuesday after Justice Department brass called the feds’ initial sentencing recommendation of up to nine years behind bars overly harsh.
“Pursuant to Local Rule of Criminal Procedure, please notice the withdrawal of Aaron S.J. Zelinsky as Counsel for the Government in the above captioned matter,” Zelinsky, a special assistant US attorney who also served on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, wrote in a terse, one-sentence court filing in federal court in Washington, DC.
Zelinsky also informed the court that he was resigning as a federal prosecutor “effective immediately.”
Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Kravis — a trial attorney in the department’s Public Integrity Section — also told the court in a filing that he had resigned.
The Justice Department said it wanted a shorter prison sentence for President Trump’s longtime pal than the seven to nine years recommended by the feds hours after Trump called it unfair.
The president took to Twitter to call out prosecutors over their proposed sentence for Stone, the self-proclaimed political “dirty trickster” who was found guilty on charges stemming from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“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!” Trump tweeted early Tuesday.
Prosecutors, in a court filing Monday, had said the seven- to nine-year sentence fell within guidelines and would “accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law.”
Stone faces a Feb. 20 sentencing after a jury found him guilty of seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Fox News, citing an unnamed senior Justice Department official, said the decision to scale back the requested sentence was made before Trump’s tweet and that top department officials had been shocked by the prosecutors’ recommendation.
But it was not immediately clear when any filing seeking a lighter sentence would be made in the case being handled by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in federal court in DC.
“We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing,” Stone’s lawyer, Grant Smith, said in an email to Reuters.
Representatives for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stone is one of several Trump associates charged with crimes as part of Mueller’s Russia probe, which Trump has long decried as a “witch hunt.”
In a court filing Monday, prosecutors said Trump’s 2016 campaign chief Steve Bannon “viewed Stone as the Trump campaign’s access point to WikiLeaks.”
Although Stone had posted tweets that made it appear he had inside access to hacked materials related to Trump rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign that were in WikiLeaks’ possession, prosecutors and people close to Stone have acknowledged that he had no direct access to WikiLeaks or its materials.
Zelinsky, a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, now retired, and Anthony Kennedy.
Kravis graduated from Williams College and Yale Law School.
With Post wires
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