After federal prosecutors recommended a nine-year maximum sentence for Donald Trump’s longtime friend and political mentor Roger Stone on his convictions for obstructing congress and tamping with witnesses, Attorney General William Barr appears to have personally intervened in the case, ordering prosecutors to ask for a lighter sentence, according to a report by NBC News.
Barr’s reported meddling in the case came after Trump, on Tuesday morning, tweeted that the nine-year sentence recommendation was “horrible and very unfair.”
But Stone himself, in a court filing his lawyers provided, pleaded with Judge Amy Berman Jackson to lessen his sentence, saying that his repeated violations of her gag orders against him should not count because they aggravated his “anxiety.”
According to a New York Times report, Stone claimed to have fought a “longstanding battle” with the condition and had conquered the problem through “therapy” until his anxiety was made worse when Berman Jackson ordered him to stop posting about his case on social media.
In one Instagram post, from February 2019, Stone put up an image showing the judge with a crosshairs symbol adjacent to her head, accompanied by a comment from Stone accusing Berman Jackson of running a “show trial,” and declaring that “the fix is in.”
In Stone’s trial, prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky presented evidence that Stone served as the middleman between the 2016 Trump campaign and the document dumping site WikiLeaks, alerting the campaign as to when the site would release internal Democratic campaign emails stolen by hackers who worked for the Russian government. Several phone conversations between Trump and Stone during the campaign appeared to coincide with the WikiLeaks releases, Zelinsky said in court, back in November.
On Tuesday, after Barr’s reported intervention to reduce Stone’s sentence, Zelinsky resigned as a prosecutor in the case — as did three other prosecutors. Though none of the prosecutors gave a reason for their sudden resignations, experts believe that they quit in protest over the Barr attempt to gain a lighter sentence for Stone, according to the Times report.
Zelinsky, along with prosecutor Adam C. Jed, had also been members of the team employed by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign’s Russian connections. The Stone case was the final prosecution to result from Mueller’s investigation, according to The Washington Post.
Trump denied on Tuesday that he had spoken with Barr or the Justice Department about Stone’s sentencing, but in addition to his tweet, he said in remarks to reporters that the initial sentencing recommendation for Stone was “an insult to our country,” as quoted by The Post.