Senior Justice Department leadership publicly rebuked career prosecutors on Tuesday when an official announced that the department was “shocked” by prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone.
A senior official told The Washington Post and The New York Times that the department “was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case last night.”
“That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official said. “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses. The department will clarify its position later today.”
The statement came just hours after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to complain about prosecutors’ initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone, which they made on Monday.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” Trump tweeted. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Tuesday’s reversal from the DOJ left former career prosecutors flabbergasted.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ, didn’t mince words when reacting to the news, telling Insider, “DOJ needs to register as a Republican Political Action Committee.”
“Impossible to overstate how alarmed people should be right now,” Susan Hennessey, the former general counsel at the National Security Agency at a managing editor at Lawfare, wrote.
Stone was convicted last year on seven counts of obstruction of justice, false statements, and witness tampering. The unnamed senior official told The Post that the DOJ’s decision to recommend a lower sentence for Stone had already been made before Trump sent out his tweet. But the timing of the announcement will likely raise new questions about the coziness between Trump and the DOJ.
Those questions intensified when Trump ousted former attorney general Jeff Sessions in late 2018 and replaced him with William Barr, who has been sharply criticized for acting more like Trump’s defense lawyer and allowing him to weaponize the DOJ as both a sword against perceived opponents and a shield for loyalists like Stone.
The former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office indicted Stone in January 2019 on one count of obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, and one count of witness tampering, in connection with his contacts with people linked to the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks. He was convicted on all seven counts in November.
The charging document against Stone contained a slew of details about Stone’s false statements to Congress about his interactions involving WikiLeaks; about his extensive communications with the far-right commentator Jerome Corsi and the radio host Randy Credico about WikiLeaks’ document dumps in summer 2016; and about his prolonged efforts to prevent Credico from testifying to Congress or turning over information to the FBI.
In their original sentencing recommendation for Stone, prosecutors wrote, “A sentence consistent with the Guidelines is appropriate based on the nature and extent of Stone’s conduct, the length of time it transpired,” which was nearly two years, “and the matter of significant national importance that it centered upon.”
“I don’t see how a prosecutor could explain this,” the longtime former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Twitter. “Yesterday they told the judge that a sentence of seven to nine years was appropriate for Roger Stone. Today they’re supposed to argue that they were wrong yesterday? Any judge would ask: What changed between yesterday and today?”
Hennessey noted that while it’s unlikely that US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing Stone’s case, will go along with the DOJ’s shift, the move itself “would still give Trump cover to pardon Stone outright which is presumably the long game here.”
Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York (SDNY), wrote that ex-DOJ employees are “absolutely freaking out” over the Stone sentencing reversal, as well as Barr’s recent revelation that the Justice Department is working with the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — who is also Trump’s personal lawyer — to set up a direct channel to obtain information Giuliani gets from Ukrainian sources about former Vice President Joe Biden.
Barr’s “red carpet treatment” of Giuliani, as Rocah characterized it, is particularly unusual given that Giuliani is currently under investigation by the SDNY over his efforts to get foreign dirt on Trump’s political rival ahead of the November election.
“I do not envy the DOJ lawyers who are going to have to convince the judge that political pressure was not applied to suddenly backtrack on their sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone,” the national security lawyer Bradley Moss wrote.