All four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone have quit the case after the US Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confident.
The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair”.
The DOJ said the sentencing recommendation was made on Monday night – before Trump’s tweet – and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
But the decision raised questions about political interference and whether Trump’s views hold unusual sway over the Justice Department, which is meant to operate independently of the White House in criminal investigations and prosecutions.
On Monday night, prosecutors had recommended Stone serve seven to nine years behind bars after being convicted of charges including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
In a tweet early on Tuesday, Trump said the case against Stone was a “miscarriage of justice”.
A Justice Department official said authorities decided to step in and seek a shorter sentence because they had been taken by surprise by the initial recommendation. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors had told the department to expect a shorter recommendation.
The departures came abruptly after the decision by Justice and are widely seen as a protest against the Trump administration’s handling of the Roger Stone case.
After the lawyers quit the case, Justice Department officials filed a revised sentencing memorandum with the judge, arguing its initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances,” but that it would defer to the court. None of the original prosecutors in Stone’s case signed onto the revised memo.
Meanwhile, Democrats decried the decision, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for an investigation by the DOJ’s Inspector General.
House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff said it would be a blatant abuse of power if the Justice Department intervened on behalf of Trump.
Trump later told reporters that he didn’t speak to Justice officials. “
I would be able to do it if I wanted,” he said.
“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.”