A federal prosecutor told lawmakers Wednesday that Roger Stone “was treated differently because of politics,” leading to a reduction in the recommended sentence for the longtime adviser to President Donald Trump.
“Roger Stone was being treated differently from every other defendant,” Aaron Zelinsky told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Zelinsky and a second federal prosecutor, John Elias, told the committee that Attorney General William Barr has tilted actions toward Trump’s interests, and committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called Barr “the president’s fixer.”
Barr has denied political motivations in his actions, and as the hearing began Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a tweet that the attorney general would appear before the Judiciary panel “for a general oversight hearing” on July 28.
On Wednesday, the committee’s top Republican said the attorney general is simply correcting injustices committed by anti-Trump forces in the FBI and Justice Department.
“The politics was in the previous administration,” Representative Jim Jordan said. “Bill Barr is doing the Lord’s work in seeing it doesn’t happen again.”
Zelinsky was one of four prosecutors who withdrew from the case against Stone after their original sentencing recommendation was reduced. Barr acted after Trump tweeted that the proposed sentence was “horrible and very unfair,” but the attorney general has said he came to the same conclusion before Trump spoke out.
Stone has been sentenced to 40 months for lying to Congress and tampering with a witness and is set to report to prison on June 30.
Kupec, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday that Zelinsky’s accusations of improper political pressure were “based on his own interpretation of events and hearsay (at best.)”
John Elias, a trial attorney in the Antitrust Division, told the House committee that the Justice Department’s priorities were improperly swayed by Barr’s preoccupation with prosecuting marijuana cases. He said he was told that mergers between companies in that business were given priority because “the cannabis industry is unpopular on the fifth floor.” That’s where Barr’s office is located.
Brianna Herlihy, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday night that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility reviewed the marijuana merger investigations and found the division acted “reasonably and appropriately.”
Elias also said the antitrust division was ordered to initiate an inquiry into a deal that some major automakers were crafting with California on air quality standards after Trump signaled in a tweet that he was angered by the move.
“I don’t believe there was a proper basis to actually go forward with a formal investigation,” Elias testified.
Republican Jordan noted that the hearing came as the Justice Department won a victory in another case involving another key figure tied to Trump.
A three-judge panel on a federal appeals court ordered a judge Wednesday to immediately dismiss the criminal case against Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The judges said U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan didn’t have authority to examine whether Barr’s surprise decision to dismiss the case, in which Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI, was part of a corrupt effort to aid one of Trump’s political allies.
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