The metaphors we typically use in these sorts of situation are not particularly apt. The men involved are not jumping from a sinking seafaring enterprise nor is the heat around them so unbearable as to make their bodies drop.
Every single federal prosecutor assigned to a case impacting President Donald Trump‘s longtime friend Roger Stone has now exited the arena in a showy collective action aimed at defying the president’s admitted meddling.
Earlier today, Aaron Zelinsky, a former highly-placed prosecutor with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office abruptly resigned his post at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. “effective immediately” in what’s widely being viewed as a form of protest against the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) unprecedented decision to put its fingers on the scales in favor of Stone.
The Richard Nixon aficionado and Trump confidante was initially slated to have the book thrown at him after being convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing justice during Mueller’s long-and-winding investigation into corruption and election interference during the 2016 campaign. But then William Barr’s DOJ stepped in.
A senior DOJ official authorized to leak told reporters that Stone’s proposed 7- to 9-year sentence was “extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate,” and that steps would be taken to make sure the man who lied for Trump was given a lighter prison sentence.
Roughly an hour later, another prosecutor resigned his position in protest.
MORE BREAKING: Now a veteran federal prosecutor in DC assigned to Stone case an not from Mueller team, Jonathan Kravis, has resigned his post. Developing…..https://t.co/FFngOWpBNe pic.twitter.com/jDrF9xuCsm
— Josh Gerstein (@joshgerstein) February 11, 2020
And another one.
A THIRD Stone prosecutor has now dropped out of the case: Adam Jed. pic.twitter.com/vLzMxJi5Z7
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) February 11, 2020
MARANDO OUT pic.twitter.com/cG8uS2tjbo
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) February 11, 2020
As of this writing, Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed and Michael J. Marando have all turned in their DOJ-issued yellow pads due to the unheard of intrusions into their efforts to prosecute and punish Stone by President Trump and his ever-loyal attorney general.
Late last year, as the impeachment debacle unfolded in the House of Representatives, Kravis addressed a D.C. courtroom. He made the point that Stone’s lies to Congress kept key emails and text messages out of investigators’ hands.
“Because Stone lied to them,” Kravis told the 14-person-strong jury, “the committee didn’t take that step and now those messages are gone.”
“He knew that if the truth came out about what he had been doing in 2016, it would look terrible,” the now-former assistant U.S. Attorney argued.
Jed’s first stint as a prosecutor came by way of his inclusion on Mueller’s team–previously working on appellate litigation for DOJ.
“He’s a very smart careful appellate lawyer,” attorney John Bies told the Daily Beast in 2017. “The fact that him and the other solicitor general’s office people were brought in shows Mueller’s playing the long game and thinking carefully about where things will go—not just in the investigation, but down the road when they have to litigate issues in the courts.”
Marando previously made a name for himself extolling the virtue of the truth–that quality so rare in the present and usually found to be abundant with the help of time’s passage and that skill we call hindsight.
As Stone’s defense lawyers essayed an unsuccessful “no harm, no foul, right?” defense, Marando loudly shut them down.
“Well, if that’s the state of affairs that we’re in, I’m pretty shocked,” Marando told the judge and jury. “Truth matters. Truth still matters, OK? And I know we live in a world nowadays with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any view, any political view you want. You can find your own truth. However, in our institutions of self-governance, courts of law or committee hearings, where people under oath have to testify, truth still matters.”
The mass resignations prompted a flood of shocked, awed and pained responses from attorneys and legal experts.
“This is a dark, dark day for the Department of Justice,” Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams said Tuesday on his SiriusXM radio show. “I am despondent over what I am seeing from this Department of Justice.”
“Things are not good, folks,” said criminal justice advocate and former BuzzFeed News legal reporter Chris Geidner.
“They are not,” agreed former Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub.
All four prosecutors working on the Roger Stone case have now quit. A resounding rejection of DOJ corruption.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) February 11, 2020
I have really tried to have, and encourage others to have, faith in the resiliency of our institutions. But today I just feel so much sadness — grief, really — over what is happening. There is a cancer in the White House, and it has spread to the Justice Department.
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) February 11, 2020
This is the criminal-law equivalent of the DOJ’s insane reversal of position in the Affordable Care Act case. In both cases, career lawyers DOJ properly refused to play no part once it became clear that law is no longer the basis of DOJ’s actions. https://t.co/nUcc70tNmu
— Sasha Samberg-Champion (@ssamcham) February 11, 2020
“Anyone who thought Donald Trump’s behavior would be more circumspect after his impeachment was immediately proven wrong today, as this action in the Roger Stone case by Trump and his Justice Department absolutely reeks of corruption,” said People For the American Way Executive Vice President for Policy and Program Marge Baker in a statement. “It is hard to see this as anything other than blatant political interference by the president in a criminal case involving a crony, and we agree with the Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Schumer, that it demands an immediate investigation.”
And an old phrase came back into fashion:
No, this is not normal. pic.twitter.com/BvrLfZ1XsT
— bmaz (@bmaz) February 11, 2020
Amidst the chaotic personnel changes at DOJ on Tuesday, the junior attorneys tapped to appease Trump finally delivered their reduced call. In a brief filed with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, prosecutors requested a sentencing range of three to four years in prison.
The names on the recommendation? Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr. and U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, Barr’s former counsel at the DOJ.
Attorney General Barr just installed Shea as U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.–the office handling “lingering” Mueller cases, like the ones against Stone and Michael Flynn.
Prosecutors recently reversed course on Flynn’s sentencing memo after recommending prison time. They said they would be fine with probation–even as Flynn’s legal team moved to withdraw his guilty plea and accused federal prosecutors of misconduct.
Now the Flynn case is also being overseen by Barr’s former top aide, so keep an eye on that in the days to come.
[image via The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images]
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