Justice Department watchdog looking into Roger Stone sentencing changes

Elias Hubbard
September 15, 2020

The review by the department's inspector general comes after Aaron Zelinsky, a career prosecutor, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing in June that his office received "heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice" to ease its sentencing recommendation for Stone, a political ally of the president.

Stone was convicted of seven felonies on charges of lying to Congress and witness intimidation. Before the sentencing, Attorney General William Barr intervened, and Stone was ultimately sentenced to 40 months in prison. Prosecutors said he was trying to protect Trump by misleading a Congressional investigation into Russian Federation and Trump's 2016 campaign. One source told NBC News that the investigation was launched after Aaron Zelinsky - a career DOJ official who had led the Stone prosecution - testified before Congress about "political pressure" within the Department to lighten the sentencing recommendation submitted for Stone.

Stone did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the news.

Zelinsky and three other prosecutors working on the case withdrew from it when the Department filed a memo that overruled the initial recommendation they offered for Stone.

Sources speaking on the condition of anonymity told NBC News that the investigation will focus on the events in February when Stone's prosecutors say they had been told to seek a lighter sentence for Stone rather than the 7-9 years they initially suggested.

Giving evidence to the House Judiciary Committee on July 28, Attorney General Bill Barr said that Stone's age made a long sentence unfair because he had not committed a violent crime. But the recent involvement of the department's inspector general carries additional weight because the inspector general is independent, required to report to Congress and must publicly post findings of misconduct.

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