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National News

DOJ Inspector General Investigating Roger Stone Sentencing

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DOJ Inspector General Investigating Roger Stone Sentencing

2020-09-15 17:46:38

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Roger Stone (Image source: The Circus on SHOWTIME via Wikimedia Commons)

If you thought the Roger Stone case was done when Donald Trump commuted his sentence, you'd be wrong. According to sources familiar with the matter, the Justice Department inspector general's office is investigating the events and decisions behind the sentencing recommendation of Stone, a one-time aide to the Trump campaign as well as a longtime friend of the president's.

To recap the case to date: Stone was convicted in 2019 on seven charges — including obstructions, witness tampering, and making false statements — as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

He had been accused of being the middle man between Russia intercepting Democratic National Committee emails and the emails then appearing on the WikiLeaks site.

Prosecutors recommended nine years in prison, and Trump balked. This led to Attorney General William Barr stepping in and lowering the sentence, leading prosecutors to quit the case. Stone was sentenced to 40 months, and once he exhausted all his appeals, Trump jumped in and commuted his sentence.

The inspector general is investigating the events from last February when prosecutors claim they were told to told to request a lighter sentence for Stone.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of the prosecutors, testified before Congress earlier this summer that he was told by the Office of the U.S. attorney for Washington D.C. to recommend a lighter sentence because of Stone's relationship with Trump.

He said Timothy Shea, the U.S. attorney at that time, was "receiving heavy pressure from the higher levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break and that the U.S. attorney's sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations."

A source familiar with this matter said that the comments Zelinsky made when he testified a few months back led to the internal watchdog opening the investigation. It's unknown how far along the investigation is, who has been interviewed, or whether evidence of wrongdoing has been found,

Barr defended jumping into the sentencing when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on July 28 after Trump had commuted Stone's sentence on July 10. He said Stone's age of 67 made it unfair for him to be sentenced to so many years for a nonviolent crime.

"I agree the president's friends don't deserve special breaks, but they also don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people," said Barr.

The Office of Professional Responsibility at the DOJ began an inquiry into the Stone sentencing and whether there were leaks to the media, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 

However, the inspector general getting involved makes this a bigger deal. The office is required to report its findings to Congress and post any misconduct publicly. If warranted, the inspector general's office can refer a case to a U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution.

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