Justice Department watchdog launches investigation of Roger Stone's sentencing
Attorney General William Barr is finally undergoing scrutiny by the internal Justice Department watchdog for one of the many shady actions he has taken during his tenure—interfering in the department's sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, according to NBC News.
The line prosecutors who had secured the conviction of Stone on all seven felony counts had submitted a recommendation of seven to nine years before Barr intervened in February to instead suggest a lighter sentence. All four line prosecutors quit the case based on Barr undercutting their original recommendation, and one of those attorneys, Aaron Zelinsky, actually left the Justice Department over the matter. Before Barr made the unprecedented move, he also went to the trouble of replacing the U.S. attorney who had signed off on the original recommendation with a loyalist, Timothy Shea.
Stone was ultimately sentenced to a little over three years in prison before Donald Trump commuted his sentence altogether in July. Stone never served more than a few days of home confinement for lying to Congress and obstructing justice in what was clearly an effort to cover up Trump's explicit knowledge of outside interference in the 2016 election.
The Justice Department acknowledged the internal probe, with a spokesperson telling Politico, "We welcome the review." The office of the department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, declined to comment.
Barr, who changed the recommendation after Trump tweeted his disapproval of the first one, has called the original sentencing recommendation "excessive" even though it fell within Justice Department guidelines and followed the existing policy of seeking maximum sentences called for by the guidelines.
Zelinsky, who had served as a career prosecutor at the Justice Department since 2014, testified before Congress in June that Barr's intervention in the case was "unprecedented"—a word he used at least five times in his opening statement. Zelinsky said he had heard Stone was getting special treatment "because of his relationship to the President."
"I was told 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," Zelinsky wrote. "I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was 'afraid of the President.'"
The Justice Department inspector general is required to report his conclusions both publicly and to Congress and, as NBC notes, the inspector general can also refer a case to a U.S. Attorney's office for prosecution if warranted.
Editor's note: The headline has been updated.