WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump praised Attorney General Bill Barr on Wednesday for “taking charge” of a lowered sentencing recommendation for ally Roger Stone, an incident that prompted four veteran prosecutors to leave the case.
“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” Trump tweeted a day after he spoke out publicly on the Stone case.
Prosecutors recommended Stone serve seven to nine years in prison on Monday. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted the recommendation was unfair. Hours later, the Justice Department disclosed it would reduce the sentencing recommendation and then four career prosecutors involved in the case promptly withdrew from it – and one left the Justice Department entirely. Justice Department officials denied Trump played a role in their decision to reduce the recommendation, a claim critics challenged.
Congressional Democrats called for an investigation, accusing Trump and the Justice Department of political meddling in a criminal prosecution.
In seeking an investigation from the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that “the American people must have confidence that justice in this country is dispensed impartially.”
A jury convicted Stone, 67, of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his presidential campaign. The prosecution of the long-time GOP operative stemmed from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
After the Justice Department disclosed it would reduce the sentence recommendation, prosecutors Jonathan Kravis, Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed and Michael Marando notified the court they were withdrawing from Stone’s case. Kravis, an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, resigned from the Justice Department entirely.
Their departures come as the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, the largest in the country, is in transition. Two weeks ago, Timothy Shea, who served as counselor to Attorney General William Barr, was appointed as interim chief prosecutor.
In his Wednesday tweet, Trump again protested the entire Russia investigation, saying that “evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted.” He also accused Mueller of lying to Congress, though there is no evidence that happened.
Although a Justice Department official said the about-face was not influenced by Trump, critics said Trump’s tweet casts a new light on developments.
Former federal prosecutor Barb McQuade, now a law professor at the University of Michigan, said Trump’s tweet “seems to confirm that it was Barr and not Shea who was responsible for the change – at Trump’s behest, no doubt.”
It “confirms the politicization of DOJ,” she said.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Kristine Phillips