President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied asking his attorney general to roll back prosecutors’ recommendation that longtime advisor Roger Stone face serious jail time – after the Justice Department did a sudden 180-degree turn in court and every prosecutor on the case quit.
The Department of Justice dramatically reversed its demand to jail Stone for up to nine years in a move announced Tuesday – hours after Donald Trump slammed it on Twitter as a ‘miscarriage of justice.’
The reversal prompted the extraordinary decision by three experienced federal prosecutors to remove themselves from the case – with one resigning his position with the government entirely.
Trump stood by his decision Tuesday afternoon, calling the original recommendation a ‘disgrace,’ and terming the proposed sentence ‘ridiculous.’
President Donald Trump called the original sentencing recommendation for longtime advisor Roger Stone a ‘disgrace,’ and called the proposed sentence ‘ridiculous.’ Prosecutors filed a new recommendation following his late-night tweet
‘I thought it was ridiculous,’ Trump said.
‘No I didn’t speak to the Jus – I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe.
But I didn’t speak to them. I thought the (original) recommendation was ridiculous, I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,’ Trump vented. ‘I look at others that haven’t been prosecutors.’
He said he considered it an ‘insult to our country.’ He called them ‘the same Mueller people that put everybody through hell.’
But he also maintained: ‘I have not been involved.’
‘I think it’s a disgrace. See what happens.’
Trump declined to say whether he was considering commuting Stone’s sentence, whatever it turns out to be. But he did suggest another man he considers a political enemy, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, might face a military investigation.
‘We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want. General Milley has him now. I congratulate General Milley,’ Trump said, referencing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley. ‘He can have him. And his brother also,’ Trump said. ‘We’ll find out,’ he added, without explanation.
According to its updated filing, which came after Trump’s overnight tweets: ‘The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration that is ‘sufficient, but not greater than necessary’ to satisfy the factors set forth in’ sentencing guidelines.
‘Based on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted … Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,’ the updated memo said.
Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Donald Trump’s confidant Roger Stone to serve between seven and nine years in prison after his conviction in November 2019
A senior Justice Department official told ABC News “it does appear” the the prosecutors asked to be taken off the case as a form of protest. But the official denied Trump’s nearly 2 am tweet played a role in the turnaround, calling it an ‘inconvenient coincidence.’
Stone has been a Trump confidant for decades, and served as an informal advisor during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump’s denial came after prosecutors filed a new memo in the Stone case leaving it to the judge to recommend the appropriate sentence.
Leaders at the department, which is headed by Attorney General Bill Barr, found it extreme and excessive, and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses, one official said.
Shortly after the announcement, the lead prosecutor in the case, Aaron Zelinsky, used a court filing to announce that he had resigned ‘effective immediately’ as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. He retains a federal post in Maryland. A second, Jonathan Kravis, followed him shortly afterwards, resigning from government service as an assistant U.S. attorney.
A third federal prosecutor, Adam Jed, also withdrew as counsel to the government in the case. Later Tuesday, it was revealed that prosecutor Michael Marando withdrew from the case.
Kravis served in the public integrity of the Justice Department, served in the White House counsel’s office under Barack Obama, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Jed clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
All four used court filings to announce their departures, apparently to the surprise of their own colleagues – in an unmistakable sign of protest.
Zelinsky was a member of Mueller’s team, but remained after Mueller departed to work on the Stone case.
Trump had tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday morning: ‘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!’
Just before midday, the DOJ announced its walk back but one official told Fox News the decision had been made before Trump’s Twitter rant.
All three were seasoned prosecutors who worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
The official did not explain why the reversal had not been announced until after the tweet. The DOJ has not said what sentence it will now seek.
The move prompted immediate anger and derision from Democrats with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer saying: ‘They’ll probably recommend the presidential medal of freedom!’
He said he was asking the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate whether Bill Barr had directed the reversal.
Veteran ‘dirty trickster’ Stone is due to face sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on February 20, after a jury in November found him guilty on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Attack: Democratic congressman Bill Pascrell likened Trump and the DOJ’s move to a banana republic
Trump tweeted Monday night: ”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!’ (pictured: at a campaign rally in Manchester last night)
Prosecutors will now have to ask the judge for permission to abandon their initial recommendation and submit a new one.
‘We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing,’ Stone’s lawyer, Grant Smith, said in an email to Reuters.
It is extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court. Normally, United States attorneys have wide latitude to recommend sentences on cases that they prosecuted.
Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original Justice Department recommendation.
Long-time consigliere: Roger Stone has been advising Donald Trump on politics for more than 20 years, including in 1999 during his first putative White House run
Jackson, the judge, has repeatedly scolded Stone for his out-of-court behavior, which included a social media post he made of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.
The judge barred Stone from social media last July after concluding that she repeatedly flouted his gag order.
Besides, judges invariably frown upon crimes that they see as perverting the functions of the criminal justice system, such as making false statements or obstructing an investigation.
The Justice Department plans to refile the recommendation later Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors also recently softened their sentencing position onFlynn, saying that they would not oppose a probation of punishment after initially saying that he deserved up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI. The Flynn prosecution is also being handled by the U.S. Attorney´s office in Washington.
The White House referred questions about the decision to the Justice Department.
Stone is one of several people close to Trump who faced charges stemming from then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has the power to pardon people for federal crimes, although he has yet to use it in the cases of other former aides convicted in the wake of the Mueller investigations.
His tweet hunted he could use that power, or his power to commute sentences if Stone were to get the level of custody demanded by prosecutors.
Stone’s own defense had asked for probation.
Senior Democratic lawmakers expressed amazement at the move but Trump loyalists said they now hoped Mike Flynn – the disgraced former national security advisor who is currently trying to get out of his guilty plea to lying to the FBI – would also get ‘clemency.’
Outrage: Senior Democratic lawmakers including senators Chuck Schumer – the Senate minority leader – Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse all expressed anger at the move to abandon the call for a nine-year sentence
Trump-world reacts: Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor whose daughter Sarah was the White House press secretary, was among the president’s supporters calling for Mike Flynn to also be affected by the apparent presidential intervention into a prosecution
During the trial, prosecutors pressed their case that Stone lied to lawmakers about his outreach to WikiLeaks – the website that disclosed many hacked Democratic emails ahead of the 2016 U.S. election that proved embarrassing to Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton – to protect Trump from looking bad.
Stone, who has labeled himself an ‘agent provocateur’ and has the face of former President Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, was charged with obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee during its investigation into Russian election interference.
Stone’s colorful trial featured references to the film ‘The Godfather Part II,’ an impression of Senator Bernie Sanders by prosecution witness Randy Credico, and testimony by political heavyweights including former Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon and former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates.
Those witnesses said they believed Stone had inside information about when WikiLeaks might release more damaging emails about Clinton. In truth, he had no such information.
Stone was also accused of tampering with Credico’s testimony, when Credico was summoned to testify before Congress and speak with the FBI.
In emails and texts, Stone told Credico among other things: ‘Prepare to die,’ ‘You’re a rat. A stoolie,’ and ‘Stonewall it.’
Prosecutors also charged that Stone had threatened Credico´s therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was ‘going to take that dog away from you.’
The six Trump associates to be convicted in Mueller probe
GUILTY: ROGER STONE
Convicted in November 2019 on seven counts including obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks. Due for sentencing on February 20, and faces between 7-9 years in prison.
Stone was a person of interest to Mueller’s investigators long before his January 2019 indictment, thanks in part due to his public pronouncements as well as internal emails about his contacts with WikiLeks.
In campaign texts and emails, Stone communicated with associates about WikiLeaks following reports the organization had obtained a cache of Clinton-related emails.
According to the federal indictment, Stone gave ‘false and misleading’ testimony about his requests for information from WikiLeaks. He then pressured a witness, comedian Randy Credico, to take the Fifth Amendment rather than testify, and pressured him in a series of emails. Following a prolonged dispute over testimony, he called him a ‘rat’ and threatened to ‘take that dog away from you’, in reference to Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca. Stone warned him: ‘Let’s get it on. Prepare to die.’
GUILTY: MICHAEL FLYNN
Pleaded guilty to making false statements in December 2017. Awaiting sentence
Flynn was President Trump’s former National Security Advisor and Robert Mueller’s most senior scalp to date. He previously served when he was a three star general as President Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency but was fired.
He admitted to lying to special counsel investigators about his conversations with a Russian ambassador in December 2016. He has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.
GUILTY AND IN JAIL: MICHAEL COHEN
Pleaded guilty to eight counts including fraud and two campaign finance violations in August 2018. Pleaded guilty to further count of lying to Congress in November 2018. Sentenced to three years in prison and $2 million in fines and forfeitures in December 2018
Cohen was investigated by Mueller but the case was handed off to the Southern District of New York,leaving Manhattan’s ferocious and fiercely independent federal prosecutors to run his case.
Cohen was Trump’s longtime personal attorney, starting working for him and the Trump Organization in 2007. He is the longest-serving member of Trump’s inner circle to be implicated by Mueller. Cohen professed unswerving devotion to Trump – and organized payments to silence two women who alleged they had sex with the-then candidate: porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. He admitted that payments to both women were felony campaign finance violations – and admitted that he acted at the ‘direction’ of ‘Candidate-1’: Donald Trump.
He also admitted tax fraud by lying about his income from loans he made, money from taxi medallions he owned, and other sources of income, at a cost to the Treasury of $1.3 million.
And he admitted lying to Congress in a rare use of the offense. The judge in his case let him report for prison on March 6 and recommended he serve it in a medium-security facility close to New York City.
GUILTY AND IN JAIL: PAUL MANAFORT
Found guilty of eight charges of bank and tax fraud in August 2018. Sentenced to 47 months in March 2019. Pleaded guilty to two further charges – witness tampering and conspiracy against the United States. Jailed for total of seven and a half years in two separate sentences. Additionally indicted for mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney, using evidence previously presented by Mueller
Manafort worked for Trump’s campaign from March 2016 and chaired it from June to August 2016, overseeing Trump being adopted as Republican candidate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. He is the most senior campaign official to be implicated by Mueller. Manafort was one of Washington D.C.’s longest-term and most influential lobbyists but in 2015, his money dried up and the next year he turned to Trump for help, offering to be his campaign chairman for free – in the hope of making more money afterwards. But Mueller unwound his previous finances and discovered years of tax and bank fraud as he coined in cash from pro-Russia political parties and oligarchs in Ukraine.
Manafort pleaded not guilty to 18 charges of tax and bank fraud but was convicted of eight counts in August 2018. The jury was deadlocked on the other 10 charges. A second trial on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent due in September did not happen when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and witness tampering in a plea bargain. He was supposed to co-operate with Mueller but failed to.
Minutes after his second sentencing hearing in March 2019, he was indicted on 16 counts of fraud and conspiracy by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., using evidence which included documents previously presented at his first federal trial. The president has no pardon power over charges by district and state attorneys.
GUILTY: RICK GATES
Pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements in February 2018. Awaiting sentence
Gates, a Trump campaign official, was Manafort’s former deputy at political consulting firm DMP International. He admitted to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government on financial activity, and to lying to investigators about a meeting Manafort had with a member of congress in 2013. As a result of his guilty plea and promise of cooperation, prosecutors vacated charges against Gates on bank fraud, bank fraud conspiracy, failure to disclose foreign bank accounts, filing false tax returns, helping prepare false tax filings, and falsely amending tax returns.
GUILTY AND JAILED: GEORGE PAPADOPOLOUS
Pleaded guilty to making false statements in October 2017. Sentenced to 14 days in September 2018, and reported to prison in November. Served 12 days and released on December 7, 2018
Papadopoulos was a member of Donald Trump’s campaign foreign policy advisory committee. He admitted to lying to special counsel investigators about his contacts with London professor Josef Mifsud and Ivan Timofeev, the director of a Russian government-funded think tank.
He has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigation.