Bill Barr Ratf*cked The Ratf*cker's Case, Roger Stone Prosecutor Will Testify
Roger Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky will testify to the House Judiciary Committee at noon today, and it's a safe bet that the calls to impeach Attorney General Bill Barr will get a whole lot louder after that. Zelinsky, who was detailed to the Mueller investigation from the US Attorney's Office in Maryland, will explain exactly how Barr and his cronies ratfucked the Stone case to help Donald Trump.
Ready for some fireworks? Here's a couple grafs from the first page of Zelinsky's opening statement.
The first thing every AUSA learns is that we have an ethical and legal obligation to treat every defendant equally and fairly. No one is entitled to more or less because of who they are, who they know, or what they believe. In the United States of America, we do not prosecute people because of their politics.
And we don't cut them a break because of their politics either. In the many cases I have been privileged to work on in my career, I have never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making. With one exception: United States v. Roger Stone.
Light 'em up, dude!
Roger Stone is supposed to report to jail to begin serving his sentence at the end of the month, so if Trump wants to pardon Roger Stone for this week's Democracy Destroying Friday News Dump, the political price just went up by an order of magnitude. And right on time the prosecutors are desperately trying to buy Stone a couple more months by acceding to the request to delay his surrender date until September because of COVID-19. Nice of them!
Zelinsky will be joined on the witness stand by John Elias, an assistant US Attorney from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, who will testify that his department's resources were wasted harassing legal cannabis companies because Bill Barr just hates the reefer. We'll give you a preview of that testimony as well. But, spoiler alert: How u livin', Cory Gardner? For now, let's concentrate on Zelinsky's testimony, which is going to get the most attention in East Coast Medialand.
Was There Political Pressure to Water Down the Case Against Stone?
You bet your ass there was!
What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President. I was told that the 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, and that the U.S. Attorney's sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations. I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was "afraid of the President."
Remember, Timothy Shea was the Acting US Attorney because the White House fired his predecessor Jessie Liu and blew up her career. Once she was out of the way, the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn prosecutions did a complete 180.
Coincidence? Not bloody likely.
When Did the Corrupt Interference Start?
Pretty much the second they forced Jessie Liu out the door.
Zelinsky testifies that the line prosecutors got massive pushback in February on the first version of the sentencing memo, which recommended "a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range." After initial approval from the highers up, the career attorneys started getting pressure from political appointees at Main Justice to soft-pedal Stone's egregious conduct and not seek sentencing enhancements for witness intimidation.
Moreover, Barr's minions were agitating to "remove portions of the sentencing memorandum that described Stone's conduct," i.e. the part about him helping the Trump campaign coordinate with Russia. Neat!
Golly, Why Would Bill Barr Care About Roger Stone?
Could it have been that he was trying to help Donald Trump by sticking a shiv in the Stone prosecution?
We repeatedly argued that failing to seek all relevant enhancements, or recommending a below-Guidelines sentence without support for doing so, would be inappropriate under DOJ policy and the practice of the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, and that given the nature of Stone's criminal activity and his wrongful conduct throughout the case, it was not warranted.
In response, we were told by a supervisor that the U.S. Attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed was unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. Attorney's instructions, because this case was "not the hill worth dying on" and that we could "lose our jobs" if we did not toe the line.
That's a yes, then.
How Weird Was It for the DOJ to Decide to 'Go Easy' on Someone Who Went to Trial and Got Convicted?
For the Department to seek a sentence below the Guidelines in a case where the defendant went to trial and remained unrepentant is in my experience unheard of – all the more so given Stone's conduct in the lead-up to the trial. I was told at the time that no one in the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the United States Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia – which prosecuted the Stone case after the Special Counsel's office completed its work – could even recall a case where the government did not seek a Guidelines sentence after trial.
So What Happened With the First Sentencing Memo?
On February 10, after his fellow prosecutors refused to buckle on their sentencing recommendation and Zelinsky threatened to resign from the case, the DOJ agreed to submit it, just without the whole Russia recap.
At 7:30PM Monday night, we were informed that we had received approval to file our sentencing memo with a recommendation for a Guidelines sentence, but with the language describing Stone's conduct removed. We filed the memorandum immediately that evening.
And then ...
After President Corrupt N. Public's tweet, all hell broke loose at the Justice Department, and the media reported that a new sentencing recommendation would be submitted.
We repeatedly asked to see that new memorandum prior to its filing. Our request was denied. We were not informed about the content or substance of the proposed filing, or even who was writing it. We were told that one potential draft of the filing attacked us personally.
Concerned over the political influence in the case – and the explicit statements that the reasons for these actions were political, and that the U.S. Attorney was acting because he was "afraid of the President" – I withdrew. My three colleagues did the same.
That evening, the Department filed a new memorandum seeking a substantially lower sentence for Stone. No line AUSA signed the filing—which is also something that is virtually unprecedented.
How "Off" Was the New Sentencing Memo?
The memo said that the Guidelines were "perhaps technically applicable," but attempted to minimize Stone's conduct in threatening [Randy] Credico and cast doubt on the applicability of the resulting enhancement, claiming that the enhancement "typically" did not apply to first time offenders who were not "part of a violent criminal organization." The memo also stated that Stone's lies to the Judge about the meaning of the image with the crosshairs and how it came to be posted on Instagram "overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case," and therefore should not be the basis for an enhancement.
In case that last bit is unclear, the government is saying that lying to Congress is the same thing as tweeting out threats to a federal judge, so Stone shouldn't be punished twice for the same offense. HENGHHHH????
Zelinsky also notes that the new memo asks the court to "give Stone a lower sentence because of his 'health,' though it provided no support for that contention, and the Guidelines explicitly discourage downward adjustments on that basis."
Needless to say, this level of consideration is not provided to any of the thousands of federal defendants prosecuted every year.
Hey, While You're Up There, Want to Remind Us About Stone Working to Steal the Election With Russian Help?
In fact, Zelinsky does want to remind America about Stone's 2016 ratfuckery.
Beginning in spring 2016, Stone told senior Trump campaign officials that he had inside knowledge regarding WikiLeaks's plans, and that he communicated with Julian Assange. Stone made these claims throughout the summer to Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates, Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and Campaign CEO Steve Bannon. These men believed his claims, and they sought information from Stone about what WikiLeaks would do to help the Trump campaign. Moreover, as the summer wore on, the senior leadership found Stone's predictions to be reliable. Manafort instructed Gates to keep in touch with Stone regarding WikiLeaks so that he could keep then-candidate Trump updated on Stone's information. And the senior level of the Trump campaign began brainstorming a press strategy based in part on Stone's predictions of a WikiLeaks release of documents that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign.
And in case there was any doubt that Donald Trump himself was in on the scheme, Zelinsky reminds us that Rick Gates testified that in August, Trump hung up the phone after talking to Roger Stone and "told him that there would be more information coming" from WikiLeaks.
Pretty weird that, "[i]n his written answers to the Special Counsel's Office, President Trump denied remembering anything about his conversations with Stone during the summer of 2016, and he denied being aware that Stone had discussed WikiLeaks with anyone associated with the campaign." Seems like that could have been followed up if there wasn't a nakedly partisan GOP loyalist at the top of the Justice Department throttling the investigation, huh?
Final Thoughts, Mr. Zelinsky?
Let me close briefly on a personal note.
I take no satisfaction in publicly criticizing the actions of the Department of Justice, where I have spent most of my legal career. I have always been and remain proud to be an Assistant United States Attorney. It pains me to describe these events.
But as Judge Jackson said in this case, the truth still matters. And so I am here today to tell you the truth.
Tonight, Tucker Carlson is going to summon a massive, antisemitic troll storm on this career civil servant who did his job with integrity. It's the only way they can defend this blatant corruption. It's gross, and we should remember that this is a human being with a family and a career which he's probably sacrificed by getting up there to testify today.
So, thanks, Mr. Zelinsky. And with that ...
BURN IT ALL DOWN.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.