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Law & the Courts

Former Mueller Prosecutors Withdraw from Roger Stone Case over Sentencing Fallout

Roger Stone arrives for a news conference in Washington, D.C., January 31, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

All four Justice Department prosecutors who sought seven to nine years of jail time for Roger Stone have withdrawn from the case after reportedly misleading DOJ officials over the sentencing recommendation.

“Please note the withdrawal of Aaron S.J. Zelinsky as counsel for the Government,” a court filing reads. A footnote highlights that Zelinsky “has resigned effective immediately after this filing as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.”

Multiple sources said that Zelinsky remained employed with the DOJ.

An hour later, another court filing revealed a different prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, had “resigned as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and therefore no longer represents the government in this matter.”

A third prosecutor, Adam Jed, then resigned, before the government released its new sentencing memo — which still recommended incarceration, but for “far less” than what was initially recommended. Michael Marando became the fourth and final federal prosecutor to resign from the case.

Zelinsky had worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and had been on special assignment to prosecute cases in the fallout of Mueller’s probe, while Kravis had joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington D.C. last March to also help prosecute follow-up cases to the Mueller investigation. Jed was also a former member of Mueller’s team. Marando had served with the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the U.S. attorney’s office since 2017 and was asked to join the Stone case last year.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted after the news that “the DOJ Inspector General must open an investigation immediately” over the personnel shifts. Former Obama-administration attorney general Eric Holder praised the two men for having “more guts — and an adherence to the rule of law — than too many now serving in Washington,” and suggested the DOJ had removed the two men at the “behest” of President Trump, calling the move “unprecedented, wrong and ultimately dangerous.”

“DOJ independence is critical,” Holder tweeted.

Speaking with reporters in the White House after the case updates, the president denied asking the Justice Department to change its sentencing, and did not comment on whether he was considering a pardon for Stone.

Trump tweeted outrage early Tuesday morning at Stone’s initial sentencing recommendation, which was put forth by Zelinsky, Kravis, and the rest of the prosecution on Monday, calling it “horrible and very unfair” and a “miscarriage of justice.”

Stone was found guilty in November of obstructing justice, witness tampering, and lying to Congress over alleged Russian contacts in the fallout of the Mueller report, although the special counsel found no evidence that Stone had conspired with Russia or WikiLeaks over the release of Democrats’ emails.

Stone told the House Intelligence Committee that committee Randy Credico had been his source that Wikileaks had damaging information on the Clinton campaign, while Credico has long denied being a source of information for Stone regarding WikiLeaks. Steve Bannon and other former Trump campaign advisers testified that he had bragged to people in the campaign about having contacts with damaging information.

After Trump’s Twitter comments, sources in the DOJ said Tuesday that department leadership was “shocked” by the “extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate” recommendation because it “was not what had been briefed,” and signaled a revision was on the cards. They also clarified that there had been no communication between the DOJ and the White House over the sentencing.

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