Four US prosecutors who secured the conviction of Donald Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone have quit.
Their resignations come after the justice department said it planned to overrule their sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years and reduce the amount of prison time it would seek for Mr Trump’s ally.
The president had made clear his disapproval in a tweet, saying the recommended jail term being proposed was “horrible and very unfair”.
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! https://t.co/rHPfYX6Vbv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
Hours later in a new court filing on Tuesday afternoon, the justice department called the recommendation “excessive and unwarranted” and said it would cut the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone.
A long-time Republican operative and friend of Mr Trump’s, Stone was an adviser to the then-candidate during his 2016 presidential election campaign.
The self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” was found guilty of all seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress by a jury in Washington in November last year.
He became the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference of the election.
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The four lawyers who successfully prosecuted Stone – Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis – withdrew from the case.
Mr Kravis said in a court filing that he was also quitting his job as a federal prosecutor.
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Legal experts described the department’s move as highly unusual, while Democrats accused Attorney General William Barr, who heads the DoJ, of working to protect Mr Trump’s political interests.
“The president seems to think the entire justice department is just his personal lawsuit to prosecute his enemies and help his friends,” said Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat.
Another Democrat, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen, said: “AG Barr must stop being the president’s lapdog. They are turning us into a banana republic.”
It’s supposed to be the Dept. of Justice, not a vehicle for Trump to use as an arm of his campaign to attack political adversaries and reward political friends.
AG Barr must stop being the President’s lapdog. They are turning us into a banana republic. https://t.co/NoKdZogayI
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) February 11, 2020
The justice department claimed the decision to reduce Stone’s sentence was made before Mr Trump’s tweet.
A senior official at the department, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, described the timing of Mr Trump’s tweet an “inconvenient coincidence”.
They said it appeared the four lawyers had quit in protest, adding it was “surprising that that would be the line in the sand”.
Mr Trump told reporters he thought the initial recommendation was “ridiculous” but said he did not speak to the department about it.
“I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things,” he said.
Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking! https://t.co/Fe7XkepJNN
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is due to sentence Stone on 20 February.
In a tweet on Tuesday night, Mr Trump criticised the judge’s handling of another criminal case involving his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 on tax fraud, bank fraud and other charges.
The president wrote: “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?”