Washington (AP) — Four of the lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and conﬁdent. Michael Marando, Timothy Shea, Johnathan Kravis and Aaron Zelinsky each resigned.
The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair.” The DOJ said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
But the decision raised questions about political interference and whether Trump’s views hold unusual sway over the Justice Department, which is meant to operate independently of the White House in criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Attorney General William Barr has been a steady ally of Trump’s, clearing the president of obstruction of justice even when special counsel Robert Mueller had pointedly declined to do so and declaring that the FBI’s Russia investigation — which resulted in charges against Stone — had been based on a “bogus narrative.”
On Monday night, prosecutors had recommended Stone serve seven to nine years behind bars after being convicted of charges including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. The recommendation raised the prospect that Stone could receive the harshest sentence of any of the halfdozen Trump aides charged in Mueller’s probe.
In a tweet early Tuesday, Trump said the case against Stone was a “miscarriage of justice.” A Justice Department ofﬁcial said authorities decided to step in and seek a shorter sentence because they had been taken by surprise by the initial recommendation. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors had told the department to expect a shorter recommendation.
It is extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court. Normally, United States attorneys have wide latitude to recommend sentences on cases that they prosecuted.
The departures came abruptly after the decision by Justice. Jonathan Kravis resigned his position as an assistant U.S. attorney. He had been a veteran prosecutor in Washington, and though not part of Robert Mueller’s original team, was nonetheless involved in multiple cases brought by the special counsel’s ofﬁce. Besides the Stone prosecution, Kravis had also signed onto the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which resolved with a guilty plea, and against a Russian troll farm accused of sponsoring a cover social media campaign aimed at dividing public opinion during the 2016 presidential election.
Aaron Zelinsky quit the case and his job in Washington, and would go back to his job as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore. He was working there when he was selected in 2017 for the Mueller team. He was involved in cases aimed at determining what knowledge the Trump campaign had about Democratic emails that were hacked by Russia and what efforts Trump aides made to get information about them. He was also involved in the prosecution of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign aide who played a critical role in the FBI launching its investigation in the summer of 2016.
A third prosecutor, Adam Jed, who was an original member of Mueller’s team, also withdrew from the case. His status at the Justice Department was not clear. Before joining Mueller’s team, he worked on civil cases at the Justice Department.
After the attorneys quit the case, Justice Department ofﬁcials ﬁled a revised sentencing memorandum with the judge, arguing its initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances,” but that it would defer to the court. None of the original prosecutors in Stone’s case signed onto the revised memo.
Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original recommendation. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has repeatedly scolded Stone for his out-of-court behavior, which included a social media post he made of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.