The four Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors who recommended Roger Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison left the case Tuesday after top officials sought to reduce their sentencing request.
Prosecutors Michael Marando, Timothy J. Shea, Jonathan Kravis and Aaron Zelinsky all asked the judge in the case for permission to withdraw. Kravis left the DOJ entirely, announcing his resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney.
The DOJ decision and the withdrawal of career prosecutors from the case stunned legal watchers and Washington and raised questions about potential political interference in the sentencing of a longtime Trump adviser.
Reports of the DOJ reversal said top officials found the initial guidelines to be “excessive.” Those reports also came after Trump blasted the guidelines on Twitter, saying that Stone was treated unfairly by prosecutors.
The four were involved in providing the initial sentencing guidance for Stone. But in a rebuke to the career prosecutors, the DOJ on Tuesday told the judge in the case to apply “far less” to Stone’s sentence
“The government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances,” the DOJ wrote in a memo late Tuesday afternoon.
“While it remains the position of the United States that a sentence of incarceration is warranted here, the government respectfully submits that the range of 87 to 108 months presented as the applicable advisory Guidelines range would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case,” the memo added.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” the president tweeted. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said he didn’t tell DOJ to amend its sentencing guidance, but that he would have been within his rights to do so.
“I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things,” Trump said.
“I didn’t speak to them. I thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,” he continued. “I thought it was an insult to our country.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on DOJ’s top watchdog to investigate the decision to suddenly recommend a lighter sentence for Stone, while the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is sending the Justice Department a Freedom of Information Act request asking for records related to the case.
“The DOJ Inspector General must open an investigation immediately. I will be sending a formal request to the IG shortly,” Schumer tweeted.
Stone, 67, was convicted of seven counts of obstructing and lying to Congress and witness tampering over his efforts during the 2016 campaign to get the Trump campaign information from WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors made their recommendation of 87 to 108 months in prison to D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, based on federal guidelines. Stone’s lawyers have asked the judge to give their client probation instead of prison time.
Jackson is slated to hand down Stone’s sentence on Feb. 20.