The February fracas around the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendations for Roger Stone is now being probed by the office of DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, NBC News reported Monday.
The report, based on two unnamed sources, gave few details on what exactly the watchdog is looking into and how far along he is in his review. One source told NBC News that the investigation was launched after Aaron Zelinsky — a career DOJ official who had led the Stone prosecution — testified before Congress about “political pressure” within the Department to lighten the sentencing recommendation submitted for Stone.
Zelinsky and three other prosecutors working on the case withdrew from it when the Department filed a memo that overruled the initial recommendation they offered for Stone.
Stone’s sentence was commuted by President Trump, his longtime associate, in July.
The prosecutors initially recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, after a jury convicted him of making false statements and tampering with a witness in the House’s Russia investigation.
After the DOJ filed a new brief, at the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr, watering down that recommendation, Stone’s judge sentenced him to around four years.
Barr has pointed to that sentence as vindicating his move to overrule the career prosecutors. But the judge at Stone’s sentencing hearing called the DOJ’s handling of the matter “unprecedented,” while questioning some of the arguments made in the revised memo for why the recommendation was being watered down.
Zelinksy testified to Congress that, before the initial memo was filed, then-Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea “was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.”