House Judiciary Committee to Hear from Witnesses on Alleged Justice Department “Political Interference”

WEDNESDAY AT NOON

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jun. 24, 2020) — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear testimony from former Special Counsel prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky regarding the case against former 2016 campaign Trump advisor Roger Stone.

The hearing is titled, “Oversight of the Department of Justice: Political Interference and Threats to Prosecutorial Independence” and can be watched live here beginning at 12:00 noon EDT.

While the Judiciary Committee’s “hearing” page does not list Wednesday’s witnesses, Chairman Jerrold Nadler wrote in a June 16 press release that he “issued two subpoenas for testimony from two Department of Justice whistleblowers. These individuals—John W. Elias and Aaron S.J. Zelinsky—are prepared to describe the unprecedented politicization of the Department under President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Mr. Elias and Mr. Zelinsky will be joined by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer in a hearing before the Committee on June 24, 2020.”

Stone was prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which was investigating allegations that the 2016 Trump campaign “colluded” with the Kremlin to affect the outcome of the election.  The probe, which concluded in March 2019 after 22 months and $40 million spent, ultimately could not substantiate those claims and reached no definitive conclusion as to “obstruction of justice” on the part of the president.

In November Stone was convicted on seven charges, including witness tampering and lying to Congress, by a Washington, DC jury whose foreman, an attorney and Democrat activist, exhibited bias against Trump prior to her service on the jury.  The judge overseeing the trial, Obama appointee Amy Berman Jackson, refused to allow Stone a new trial.

On February 20, Jackson sentenced Stone to 40 months’ imprisonment.  In May, Stone was scheduled to report to prison by June 30 after receiving a deferment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At present he is seeking another deferment due to health conditions he claims place him at greater risk to contract the coronavirus.

Zelinsky served within the office of former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and joined Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial team in June 2017.

Stone was one of a number of former Trump campaign associates who were charged and convicted of crimes other than “collusion” with Russia.  According to ABC News, in January 2019, Stone’s Florida home was “swarmed” in an early-morning raid by FBI agents “at special counsel Robert Mueller’s direction.” The incident was captured on camera by CNN, which reported on January 25, 2019, “The rare, dramatic video from CNN Friday capturing the early morning FBI raid of longtime Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone’s Florida home was the product of good instincts, some key clues, more than a year of observing comings at the DC federal courthouse and the special counsel’s office — and a little luck on the timing.”

The article continues:

For roughly an hour, it wasn’t clear whether the stakeout would turn out to be a bust. But then just after 6 a.m., a number of law enforcement vehicles with lights flashing but no sirens pulled in front of Stone’s home on a darkened street.

About a dozen officers with heavy weapons and tactical vests fanned out across Stone’s lawn. Law enforcement shined a flashlight into Stone’s front door, and one officer rapped against it, shouting “FBI. Open the door.” The agent shouted seconds later: “FBI. Warrant.”

According to BuzzFeed News on June 26, 2017:

The US attorney’s office in Maryland — the office that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ran for 12 years — has been fertile ground for senior Justice Department hires in the Trump administration.

Now, one of the lawyers formerly under Rosenstein’s command has joined the special counsel team that is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and, reportedly, whether Trump attempted to interfere with that probe.

Aaron Zelinsky, who has spent the past three years working for Rosenstein in Maryland as an assistant US attorney, was detailed to special counsel Robert Mueller III’s team in mid-June, a spokesperson for the special counsel’s office confirmed to BuzzFeed News. Zelinsky brings experience as a line prosecutor — he won an award last year for his work in Maryland on organized crime — and on civil procedure, which he’s taught at a law school.

In February Zelinsky and three other prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case in protest after the Justice Department termed the 7-9-year sentence recommended by prosecutors “excessive and unwarranted.”  According to Reuters on February 11:

Under pressure from President Donald Trump, the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday abruptly moved to seek a shorter prison sentence for veteran Republican operative and long-time Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone, and all four prosecutors quit the case after the highly unusual reversal…

Trump told reporters he thought the initial recommendation was “ridiculous” but said he did not speak to the Justice Department about it.

According to CBS News, Zelinsky is prepared to tell the committee: “What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject – and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.”

On Tuesday, Stone, his former aide, Andrew Miller, and the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a 17-page complaint against Zelinsky with Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility alleging that Zelinsky “lacked candor” with a judge and “abused the grand jury by seeking Mr. Miller’s testimony long after Mr. Stone was indicted, which violates Department of Justice policy prohibiting gathering evidence on a defendant after indictment, unless the government was seeking evidence for new crimes against Mr. Stone or other targets. Neither exception appeared to be the case.”

 

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