Washington: US President Donald Trump faced fresh accusations of abuse of power Tuesday after the Justice Department moved to override its own prosecutors seeking a stiff sentence for Republican political operative Roger Stone.
The move to cut the suggested sentence of seven to nine years for Stone, a longtime Trump cohort convicted in November of lying to Congress and witness tampering, came after a late-night tweet from Trump complaining about the move by federal prosecutors.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Trump tweeted.
After a top Justice official then told media that a new, lower sentencing request would be submitted, two of the case’s prosecutors withdrew, adding to the turmoil.
Senior House Democrat Adam Schiff said that Trump’s actions undermined the rule of law.
“It would be a blatant abuse of power if President Trump has in fact intervened to reverse the recommendations of career prosecutors at the Department of Justice,” Schiff, who led the impeachment investigation of Trump, said in a statement.
“Doing so would send an unmistakable message that President Trump will protect those who lie to Congress to cover up his own misconduct, and that the Attorney General will join him in that effort.”
‘Extreme and excessive’
Stone, who has advised Trump on politics for decades and consulted on his successful 2016 presidential campaign, was arrested in January 2019 at his home in Florida on charges brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia meddling investigation.
He was charged in connection with his 2017 testimony to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee - which Schiff leads - investigating Kremlin efforts to damage Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.
He was accused of lying about acting as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released hacked documents that embarrassed Clinton during the campaign.
Stone’s jury conviction on all seven counts in November made him the sixth person tied to Trump to be convicted on charges brought by Mueller.
Prosecutors recommended the stiff sentence on Monday, saying Stone threatened a witness in the case and implicitly threatened the judge by posting a picture of her on Instagram with what appeared to be a gunsight’s crosshairs.
He also repeatedly lied to the court and disobeyed a gag order, prosecutors said.
In the wake of Trump’s late-night tweet, an unnamed senior Justice Department official criticized the sentence to reporters and said the prosecutors would file a new, lower sentence recommendation later Tuesday.
“The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses,” the official said.
‘The truth looked bad’
But in apparent protest Tuesday afternoon, two leaders of the prosecution team, US attorneys Aaron Zelinsky and Jonathan Kravis, suddenly told the federal district court in Washington that they were withdrawing from the case.
Kravis told the court he was resigning his Justice Department position.
Zelinsky, a respected public prosecutor, was a member of Mueller’s team investigating possible collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign, and stayed with the Stone case after the investigation wound up nearly a year ago.
Presenting the case to the jury last year, he accused Stone of lying to protect Trump.
“The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad - the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” he said.