WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump Wednesday declined to say whether he plans to pardon Roger Stone after the Justice Department rolled back a sentencing recommendation for the president’s longtime ally, who was convicted last year of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
“I don’t want to say that yet,” the president said. He went on to tell reporters at the White House that Stone was “treated horribly.” Hours before, the president over Twitter had praised Attorney General Bill Barr for “taking charge” of the case.
The president denied having a hand in the Justice Department’s dialing back of its initial recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison. The shift in the department’s stance came after the president called the sentencing recommendation a “miscarriage of justice” over Twitter Tuesday morning.
As the Justice Department signaled that it would reverse the recommendation less than 24 hours after filing the sentencing memo in Washington federal court, all four federal prosecutors who brought the case to trial in November resigned from the legal proceedings.
“Nobody even knows what he did,” the president said Wednesday. “They put him in for nine years. It’s a disgrace.”
A federal jury found Stone guilty in November on all seven counts that he obstructed Congress, made false statements to the House Intelligence Committee and engaged in witness tampering.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the president over Twitter on Wednesday of engaging in political interference, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter Tuesday evening to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz calling for an investigation into which White House officials were involved in the reversal.
Asked if his Tuesday morning tweet was political interference, the president said no and quickly veered back to staunchly defending Stone.
“He was treated very badly,” Trump said. “Nine years recommended by four people that, perhaps they were Mueller people, I don’t know who they were, prosecutors. I don’t know what happened. They all hit the road pretty quickly.”
All four federal prosecutors were career Justice Department employees. Two resigned from their posts on Tuesday.
The first to step down, Aaron Zelinsky, was once an attorney on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, and notified the court he was withdrawing from the Stone case and resigning effective immediately from his special assignment as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.
Less than an hour later, Jonathan Kravis told the court he was resigning entirely from the Justice Department. Fellow prosecutors Adam Jed and Michael Marando then withdrew from the case.
The shocking series of events came less than a week after the GOP-controlled Senate acquitted Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Republicans such as Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said they hoped Trump had learned his lesson from the Senate impeachment trial.
But from the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump said he learned from the proceedings that Democrats are “crooked” and “vicious,” adding that his poll numbers are up ten points.
Just prior to the president’s Oval Office remarks, the judge presiding over Stone’s case unsealed an order signed last week, prior to the internal turmoil that rocked the Justice Department on Tuesday.
The order denied a request from Stone for a new trial drawing on a claim that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected his request to strike a juror during his criminal trial last year.
The juror was an IRS lawyer and during jury selection told Jackson that someone had shown her a Wall Street Journal article about the case.
“Given the content of the questionnaire in its entirety, and the juror’s testimony and demeanor during voir dire, the Court finds in its discretion that it was not necessary to strike the juror for alleged bias for failure to follow the Court’s instructions,” Jackson wrote in the order signed on Feb. 5.
Stone is scheduled to appear in Judge Jackson’s courtroom on Feb. 20 for sentencing.
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