One of the federal prosecutors who withdrew from Roger Stone’s criminal case after senior officials at the Department of Justice intervened in the sentencing recommendation for President Donald Trump’s longtime associate will tell Congress that he and other career prosecutors were heavily pressured to “cut Stone a break.” The allegations contained in Aaron Zelinsky’s opening statement for Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing left legal and government experts dismayed, with many saying the described conduct should result in the removal of Attorney General William Barr.
Zelinsky, when testifying about “improper politicization” of the DOJ, will allege that he and the other prosecutors on the case–all of whom resigned in protest–were told that then-acting U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea had “political reasons” for intervening on Stone’s behalf. They were also advised to go along with the instruction “because this case was ‘not the hill worth dying on’ and that we could ‘lose our jobs’ if we did not toe the line.”
In response to the bombshell revelations of special treatment for the president’s allies, several former DOJ prosecutors and current CNN and MSNBC/NBC legal analysts derided the department for failing to do its most important job in ensuring that everyone is equal under the law.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and NBC News legal analyst Barbara McQuade said the testimony illustrated that the DOJ’s intervention “violated DOJ Principles of Federal Prosecution,” calling the situation a “disgrace” and declaring that “Barr must go.”
Harry Litman, a Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Deputy Assistant Attorney General, said allegations that Stone’s relationship to the president garnered him special treatment was “nauseating,” and “an absolute dereliction of everything [the] DOJ stands for.”
Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said it was difficult to describe the “horror” of Zelinsky’s allegations, which he referred to as “kill shot” to the prospect of equal justice.
“Let’s be clear, if Congress let’s Barr (and DC US Attorney Tim Shea) get away w/what AUSA Zelensky just revealed about them obstructing justice in the Stone case, it is a gut punch to EVERY DEFENDANT who is NOT connected or influential or powerful or wealthy or privileged!” Kirshner, an MSNBC and NBC News legal analyst, added.
Renato Mariotti, a CNN legal analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, said the DOJ’s conduct was “unethical and wrong.”
Former Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutors Preet Bharara, Elie Honig, and Mimi Rocah also weighed in on the situation.
Bharara called the news “unacceptable”; Honig said it was proof Barr’s DOJ would “stop at nothing” to save Trump’s “cronies”; Rocah said Barr had committed “flagrant abuses.”
Honig and Bharara are CNN legal analysts; Rocah is a former MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]
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