Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trump interferes in Stone case with a non-pardon pardon

Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast reports that all four Prosecutors Quit After DOJ Says It Will Override ‘Excessive’ Sentencing Guideline for Roger Stone. Three prosecutors quit Stone’s case, and a fourth left DOJ altogether, after the DOJ said it was “shocked” by their sentencing recommendation. Does anyone not think that all that is triggered by Trump’s intervention? He did go public on how awful the sentencing recommendation was. So it’s a non-pardon pardon.

All four prosecutors handling Trump ally Roger Stone’s court case withdrew on Tuesday just hours after Department of Justice headquarters stepped in to override their recommended prison sentence and push for a shorter term.

Prosecutors had asked a federal judge on Monday to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison. The Republican operative, a longtime Trump confidant and adviser who spent decades pushing Trump to run for president, was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing a congressional probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump reacted volcanically to news of the recommendation in a tweet sent at 1:48 a.m. on Tuesday, calling it a “horrible and very unfair situation.” And within a few hours, a senior Justice Department official announced that they would override the sentencing recommendation and seek a shorter term. The official told The Daily Beast the department was “shocked” to see the seven to nine year recommendation.

“The Department finds the recommendation, as it was filed, extreme and excessive and grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses,” the official said.

The department’s decision to intervene almost immediately after Trump’s angry tweets complaining about the “miscarriage of justice” against his longtime confidant raised concerns about political interference.

Those concerns intensified Tuesday afternoon when prosecutors Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Jonathan Kravis and Michael Marando filed separate notices advising the judge they were withdrawing immediately as attorneys in the Stone case.

A federal prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the apparent involvement of Attorney General Bill Barr in overriding the sentencing recommendation was remarkable.

“We’ve long known that Trump views his political opponents as crooks and his allies as righteous, regardless of the facts or the law. That was plain from his criticism of Jeff Sessions when DOJ indicted two crooked Republican congressmen in 2018; it was plain from his continued support of Manafort up through his conviction. What’s remarkable now is that Barr appears to share that same corrupt view,” the prosecutor said.

[snip]

Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokesperson, said on Tuesday afternoon that DOJ officials did not consult with the White House regarding their decision to override the initial sentencing recommendation.

She also said the decision was not a response to the president’s tweet, and that Barr was not aware of Trump’s views before the department decided to override the recommendation. That decision was made on Monday night, she said.

A senior DOJ official echoed that statement, saying Trump’s tweet had nothing to do with the decision to override the recommendation, and called it “an inconvenient coincidence.” The official also said Tuesday was not an easy day, and that the way the events of the last 24 hours played out was “not ideal.”

Experts were skeptical of the Justice Department’s explanation.

So am I.

Read more responses in Swan’s Daily Beast report..

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