WASHINGTON (AP) - The four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case after the Justice Department overruled them and 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 confidant.
The departures on Tuesday raised immediate questions over whether Trump, who earlier in the day had blasted the original sentencing recommendation as “very horrible and unfair,” had at least indirectly exerted his will on a Justice Department that he often views as an arm of the White House.
The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night - before Trump’s tweet - and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. Even so, the departures of the entire trial team broke open a simmering dispute over the punishment of a Trump ally whose case has long captured the Republican president’s attention. The episode was the latest to entangle the Justice Department, meant to operate free from White House sway in criminal investigations and prosecutions, in presidential politics.
The four attorneys, including two who were early members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia team, comprised the entire Justice Department trial team that won convictions against Stone last fall.
Each had signed onto a Monday sentencing memo that recommended between seven and nine years in prison for Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. None lent their names to a Tuesday memo that called the original recommendation excessive.