Four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the Justice Department 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 decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained in Twitter that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair.” The Justice Department said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
The four attorneys had made up the Justice Department’s trial team and had signed onto a Monday court filing that recommended up to nine years in prison for Stone.
The department’s decision to back off the sentencing recommendation raised questions about political interference and whether Trump’s views hold unusual sway over the Justice Department.
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.”
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. The recommendation raised the prospect that Stone could receive the harshest sentence of any of the half-dozen Trump aides charged in Mueller’s probe.
A Justice Department official said authorities decided to step in and seek a shorter sentence because they had been taken by surprise by the initial recommendation. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors had told the department to expect a shorter recommendation.
It is extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation