Top Justice Department officials are taking the extraordinary step of disavowing and undercutting their own federal prosecutors, announcing plans to reduce the government’s sentence recommended for longtime Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone, a senior department official said Tuesday.
The stunning and politically charged decision, which is expected to be filed in Washington, DC, federal court later Tuesday, comes hours after Trump publicly criticized the recommendation. It immediately raised questions about the Justice Department’s independence from political pressure, and soon after the announcement, a prosecutor who worked on the case against Stone asked to withdraw from the case and resigned from the DC US attorney’s office, where he had been temporarily assigned from another office.
Prosecutors from the US Attorney’s office in Washington, who are employees of the Justice Department, had said Monday that Stone should be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison after he was convicted on seven charges last year that derived from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
That recommendation led Trump overnight Tuesday to bemoan what he called 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!” Trump said.
Hours later, the senior official said that that sentencing recommendation, transmitted to a judge and signed off on by the office’s top prosecutor, had not been communicated to leadership at the Justice Department.
“The Department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation,” the official told CNN. “The Department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
The decision to make the change was directed by the leadership of the Justice Department, the official said. The department made the decision before the President’s tweet and without consultation with the White House, according to Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman. The White House referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, and the US attorney’s office in Washington declined to comment.