WASHINGTON — A career Justice Department prosecutor who quit the case against President Trump’s friend Roger Stone Jr. after political appointees intervened to seek a more lenient sentence has agreed to testify under subpoena next week before the House Judiciary Committee.
House Democrats issued subpoenas Tuesday to the prosecutor, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, along with a second Justice Department official, John W. Elias, who has also agreed to testify in public June 24 about politicization under Attorney General William Barr — setting up a potential fight with the department about what they will be permitted to say.
Elias is a career official in Justice’s antitrust division, which opened an inquiry into a fuel efficiency deal between major automakers and the state of California; congressional Democrats have called the scrutiny politically motivated.
Democrats are calling the officials whistle-blowers, suggesting they are covered by federal laws that prohibit reprisals against civil servants who give information to Congress.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Barr has refused to testify himself, so the committee was moving forward with oversight of his actions without him.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The ability of lower-level officials to testify about internal executive branch matters without permission can be subject to dispute. The executive branch sometimes claims that such matters are privileged. Still, it has limited ability to block officials who have been subpoenaed by Congress and who want to comply with those legal demands to testify.
A third expected witness at the June 24 hearing is Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general in the first George Bush administration when Barr led the department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1989 and 1990, before Barr succeeded him as deputy attorney general and then ascended to his first stint as attorney general.
Ayer has been a frequent critic of Barr’s conduct, including the attorney general’s interventions in the criminal prosecutions of Stone and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Zelinsky, an assistant US attorney in Maryland, had been a member of the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to lead the investigation into whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with the Russian government in its 2016 election interference operation. He continued to handle the case against Stone, which spun off that inquiry.
In February, when Stone was due to be sentenced for crimes related to trying to sabotage a separate congressional inquiry into the Russian matter in order to protect Trump, Zelinsky was one of four career prosecutors who abruptly withdrew from the case when the Justice Department revised its recommendation for Stone’s sentence.