The furor continued Wednesday over the Justice Department’s change to the sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case. It’s the biggest story that you might have missed as the New Hampshire Democratic primary story dominated the headlines Tuesday night.
Here’s a briefing, based on Globe wire service and major media reports, on what’s happening:
What is the uproar all about?
Roger Stone is a long-time confidant of scandal-plagued Republican President Donald Trump. Stone was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Trump-Russia investigation and convicted in federal court of lying to Congress and witness tampering. He faces sentencing next Wednesday. Federal prosecutors in US District Court in Washington, D.C., were recommending a sentence between seven and nine years.
News broke Tuesday that the Justice Department had overrruled the sentencing recommendation. The department instead suggested an unspecified term, though its filing said the original recommendation had been excessive. (The judge does not have to follow the department’s recommendation.)
The stunning decision raised concerns that the president was undermining the traditional independence of the agency when it comes to individual prosecutions. All four prosecutors withdrew from the case, including one who quit. The US attorney who oversaw the case, Jessie Liu, was up for a Treaury Department post, but that nomination has been withdrawn without explanation.
Was the president involved in the decision?
The Justice Department has said it did not communicate with the White House about Stone’s case this week, and Trump said Tuesday he has “not been involved in it at all," though he could do so if he wanted.
But hours before the Justice Department announced its reversal decision, Trump had bashed the proposed punishment on Twitter in an early-morning tweet as “a miscarriage of justice.”
And after the decision was announced, he posted a barrage of tweets attacking both the prosecutors and US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will sentence Stone.
On Wednesday morning, he congratulated Attorney General William Barr for the department’s action, tweeting, “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”
Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
“The president of the United States has no business interfering in the criminal trial of his own campaign adviser,” said US Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a staunch Trump supporter, said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for [Trump] to be commenting on cases in the system.”
Remind me, what did Roger Stone do?
Stone was convicted in November of seven felonies for obstructing the inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee into Russian interference in the US presidential election in 2016, lying to investigators under oath, and trying to block the testimony of a witness whose account would have exposed his lies.
He was the sixth former Trump aide to be convicted in cases stemming from Mueller’s investigation.
Evidence brought by prosecutors showed that in the months before the election, Stone worked to obtain e-mails that Russia had stolen from Democratic computers and handed to Wikileaks, which released them at strategic moments timed to damage Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Stone also briefed the Trump campaign about whatever he had learned about WikiLeaks’ plans.
But he told the House committee in September 2017 that he never described to anyone involved in the Trump campaign his conversations with an intermediary to WikiLeaks. Prosecutors in their original sentencing filing said he told the committee “five categories of lies.”
Stone also waged a “concerted effort” to prevent a witness from testifying before the committee who would “expose the many lies that Stone had told." His efforts escalated to “outright threats," prosecutors said.
Stone’s conduct before the court after he was indicted, which included posting on Instagram a photo of Judge Jackson with a symbol that appeared to be crosshairs next to her head, was also cited as an aggravating factor in the original sentencing recommendation.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.
Martin finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org