WASHINGTON - The Justice Department said Tuesday it will take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it will seek for Roger Stone, an announcement that came just hours after President Donald Trump complained that the recommended sentence for his longtime ally and confidant was “very horrible and unfair.”
The move prompted near immediate protest from prosecutors on the case. One resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney. The second filed a notice with the court that he was leaving his position as a special prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, although he would remain as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.
The Justice Department said the decision to shorten the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night - before Trump’s tweet - and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
The move was sure to raise 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.
Attorney General William Barr has been a steady ally of Trump’s, clearing the president of obstruction of justice even when special counsel Robert Mueller had pointedly declined to do so and declaring that the FBI’s Russia investigation - which resulted in charges against Stone - had been based on a “bogus narrative.”
Democrats lambasted the decision. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the rule of law is being “totally perverted to Donald Trump’s own personal desires and needs.”
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 Tuesday, Trump said the case against Stone was a “miscarriage of justice.”