Prosecutor: Justice Dept sought 'break' for Trump pal Roger Stone

One of the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case will testify under oath that Bill Barr's Justice Department engaged in corruption on behalf of a Trump ally.
Image: Roger Stone
Roger Stone leaves the Prettyman United States Courthouse on Feb. 1, 2019 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

The House Judiciary Committee recently scheduled a hearing on the politicization of federal law enforcement under Attorney General Bill Barr, and Democratic leaders hinted that this wouldn't be just another hearing. Now we know why.

A government lawyer said he resigned from the team prosecuting President Donald Trump's longtime confidant Roger Stone because the Justice Department inappropriately pushed for a more lenient sentence.

The committee will hear testimony from federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who withdrew from the Stone case in February, and the committee late yesterday released a copy of his opening statement, which he will read on Capitol Hill this morning, and which will include some striking allegations.

"I have never seen political influence play a role in prosecutorial decision making, with one exception: United States v. Roger Stone," Zelinsky is prepared to say. His opening statement also alleges that the Justice Department exerted political pressure on prosecutors to "water down and in some cases outright distort" the nature of Stone's conduct.

Zelinsky will go on to note that the U.S. attorney overseeing the case "was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of Justice to cut Stone a break," and there's no great mystery as to why: "What I heard -- repeatedly -- was that Roger Stone was bring treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president."

The same opening statement said attorneys in his office were told to go along because they "could 'lose our jobs' if we did not toe the line."

Remember, it was just four months ago when a U.S. Attorney's office backed off a sentencing recommendation in the Stone case, prompting four prosecutors to resign -- including Zelinsky -- and sparking a crisis at the Justice Department.

Today, we're getting a peek behind the curtain: one of those prosecutors will testify under oath that Barr's DOJ engaged in corruption on behalf of a Trump ally.

Meanwhile, Stone is scheduled to report to prison next week, though the president has repeatedly suggested he's prepared to pardon his former campaign adviser -- Trump's "law and order" rhetoric notwithstanding.

This week, Stone asked a federal court to delay the start of his sentence, citing coronavirus concerns. The Justice Department, for reasons that are not yet clear, did not oppose the convicted felon's request.

The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, expressed some skepticism yesterday as to why prosecutors didn't oppose Stone's motion, and she's seeking a Justice Department brief explaining its rationale.

Watch this space.