Washington — A federal prosecutor who withdrew from the case involving Roger Stone, President Trump's longtime ally, is set to tell Congress that Stone's sentencing was handled in an "unprecedented way" by the Justice Department and that Stone received favorable treatment because of his relationship with Mr. Trump.
Aaron Zelinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department since 2014, will tell the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that in his tenure as a federal prosecutor, he had "never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making — with one exception: United States v. Roger Stone," according to a copy of his opening statement disclosed by the panel.
"What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject – and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction," Zelinsky will tell the Democrat-led committee.
He will also reveal to lawmakers that he repeatedly heard Stone was "being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president."
According to a copy of his opening remarks, Zelinsky intends to tell the Judiciary Committee that he was informed that the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, "was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. Attorney's sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations."
"I was also told that the acting U.S. attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was 'afraid of the president,'" Zelinsky will say. "That explanation was deeply unsettling."
Zelinsky stressed that he does not take issue with the sentence Stone received from Judge Amy Berman Jackson in February, but rather takes issue with the "process and the fact that the Department of Justice treated Roger Stone differently and more leniently in ways that are virtually, if not entirely, unprecedented."
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that Attorney General William Barr didn't discuss Stone's sentencing with Mr. Trump or another else at the White House.
"Notably, Mr. Zelinsky, a line prosecutor, did not have any discussion with the attorney general, the U.S. attorney, or any other member of political leadership at the department about the sentencing; instead Mr. Zelinsky's allegations concerning the U.S. attorney's motivation are based on his own interpretation of events and hearsay (at best), not first-hand knowledge," she said.
Kupec stressed that Barr "has and will continue to approach all cases at the Department of Justice with that commitment to the rule of law and the fair and impartial administration of justice."
A federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland and former member of special counsel Robert Mueller's team that investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Zelinsky is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee as part of a hearing focused on political interference at the Justice Department and threats to prosecutorial independence.
Zelinsky was one of four government lawyers who prosecuted Stone but abruptly resigned from the case after Barr overruled their recommendation that Stone receive seven to nine years in prison for his November conviction on seven federal charges. Shea, who now serves as the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a new sentencing memorandum that the initial recommendation "would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case."
The move by the upper echelons of the Justice Department in Stone's case raised claims of whether the department bowed to political pressure from the White House, given Mr. Trump's public defenses of his longtime confidante and criticism of the initial sentencing recommendation.
But Barr told ABC News in an interview in February that Mr. Trump never asked him "to do anything in a criminal case" and said the president's tweets on pending cases before the Justice Department "make it impossible for me to do my job."
Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison in late February for lying to Congress about his efforts to collaborate with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election and threatening a witness to conceal his actions. He said Monday he will be requesting a delay to the start of his sentence due to the coronavirus pandemic and its threat to the prison population.