WASHINGTON (CN) — The four federal prosecutors who secured the obstruction conviction of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone withdrew from the case Tuesday – with two resigning from the Justice Department – after it dialed back their sentencing recommendation which President Donald Trump had called a “miscarriage of justice.”
Aaron Zelinsky, once an attorney on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, notified the court he had withdrawn from the Stone case and stepped down, effective immediately, from his special assignment as a prosecutor in the District of Columbia.
Less than an hour later, fellow prosecutor Jonathan Kravis told the court he was resigning as assistant U.S. attorney, followed by notifications to the court that prosecutors Adam Jed and Michael Marando would also withdraw from the Stone case but remain on with the Justice Department in Washington.
The resignations came a day after Kravis and Jed signed off on a sentencing memo requesting seven to nine years in prison for Stone, who was convicted by a federal jury in November of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
As the federal prosecutors dropped off one by one, the Justice Department filed an amended sentencing memo signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr., who serves as acting chief of the U.S. Assistant Attorney’s Office criminal division and has now joined the case.
The new memo says the sentencing recommendation filed late Monday “does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter.”
The memo asks only that Stone, 67, be sentenced to “incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months,” pointing to the defendant’s age and health as reasons for a lighter sentence.
While not proposing a specific incarceration range, instead deferring to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson – who will sentence Stone on Feb. 20 – the Justice Department suggests that appropriately applied federal sentencing guidelines would land Stone behind bars for three to four years.
Tuesday’s events came after Trump took to Twitter in the early morning hours to defend Stone and denounce the initially proposed prison time.
“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!” Trump tweeted, with “the other side” presumably referring to Democrats.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Tuesday that department leadership had planned to amend the recommendation for Stone’s sentencing prior to the president’s tweet. The initial department recommendation was filed shortly after 6 p.m. Monday, while Trump’s tweet went out at just before 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Later from the Oval Office, Trump called the prosecution in Stone’s case ridiculous but said he did not intervene.
“No, I didn’t speak to Justice. I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe but I didn’t speak to them,” Trump said.
The career federal prosecutors had written in the first Justice Department memo that the recommended seven- to nine-year prison sentence was appropriate given the seriousness of Stone’s criminal conduct during his time as an informal adviser to Trump on the 2016 campaign trail.
“Investigations into election interference concern our national security, the integrity of our democratic processes, and the enforcement of our nation’s criminal laws. These are issues of paramount concern to every citizen of the United States,” the memo states. “Obstructing such critical investigations thus strikes at the very heart of our American democracy.”
The new sentencing memo offers little insight into the internal turmoil that ended the day that saw an entire team of prosecutors quit the case. In a short paragraph tepidly explaining the change, the Justice Department quotes a Supreme Court case from 1935, Berger v. United States.
“It is well established that the prosecutor ‘is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,” the memo states.
The Justice Department goes on to argue that the axiom from Berger applies not only to bringing charges or securing a conviction but must extend to advocating for a particular sentence.
In 2019, a federal jury found Stone guilty on all seven criminal counts that included his false statements to the House Intelligence Committee and obstruction of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The prosecutors in the initial sentencing recommendation called the foreign election interference the “most deadly adversar[y]” of the U.S. government, quoting Alexander Hamilton.
Zelinsky gave a powerful opening statement at Stone’s criminal trial in November 2019, telling jurors Stone lied to Congress to protect the president.
“Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad,” Zelinsky said. “The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”
Kravis had been similarly candid at closing arguments with a statement that tied the defendant to the White House.
“Here is Stone giving the campaign inside information on those releases over and over and over again,” the prosecutor said at trial. “This is going to look terrible for Trump.”
As lead prosecutors in another Mueller-driven case — the Russian firm Concord Management and Consulting, accused of funding internet troll farms that meddled in the 2016 election – which is set to go to trial in April — both Kravis and Jed were at the federal courthouse in Washington on Tuesday morning when reports broke of the Justice Department signaling it would amend Stone’s recommended sentence.
Before the rapid and destabilizing turn of events Tuesday, Stone’s attorneys on Monday night had asked for between 15 and 21 months incarceration for the “67-year-old first-time offender convicted of serious but nonviolent crimes.”
The defense memo included a breakdown of sentences for several other former Trump aides and allies, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, convicted on charges brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Charged with conspiracy and fraud, Manafort is serving a combined sentence of 7.5 years in New York federal prison.
Stone’s attorney Grant Smith said Tuesday the memo made clear their position on the Justice Department’s initial recommendation.
“We have read with interest the new reporting on Mr. Stone’s sentencing,” Smith said, adding: “We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing.”
He declined to comment after the Justice Department filed its amended recommendation.