In an interview that aired on Thursday on ABC News, Attorney General William Barr admitted that he personally intervened to overrule prosecutors in the Roger Stone case, to lower their recommended sentence for the longtime Donald Trump friend and political mentor.
Stone was convicted last year on charges of obstructing Congress and witness tampering. Prosecutors alleged that Stone lied to cover up his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. In court, the government lawyers said that Stone acted as a go-between, relaying information to Trump about upcoming WikiLeaks dumps of internal emails stolen from the Hillary Clinton campaign by hackers working for the Russian government.
Prosecutors in the case originally recommended that Stone receive a sentence of between seven and nine years. But the Justice Department quickly intervened, asking for a lesser sentence. In the Thursday interview, Barr admitted that when he found out about the nine year maximum sentence recommendation, "he told his staff that night that the Justice Department has to amend its recommendation," according to the ABC News report.
Barr denied, however, that the order to go easier on Stone came from Trump, and said that he had made up his mind to ask for the lower sentence prior to Trump's posting a tweet calling the Stone sentence recommendation "horrible and very unfair" and "a miscarriage of justice."
The attorney general broke with Trump in one important respect, however. As quoted by Politico, Trump claims that Stone was convicted "for doing nothing." Barr told ABC News that he supported the convictions of Stone; he objected only to the sentencing recommendation.
After Barr's intervention in the sentencing portion of Stone's case, all four prosecutors who had won the convictions against Stone resigned within the next day. Two of those prosecutors had also been staff members on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation team. The Stone prosecution directly resulted from the Mueller investigation.
Barr is now scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the Stone sentencing on March 31, according to an NBC News report.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has also requested an investigation of Barr's intervention in the sentencing process, by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, according to the NBC News report.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also condemned Barr's intervention in the Stone sentencing, calling the move "outrageous," and saying that the Justice Department's meddling "damaged the rule of law."
In another tweet, Trump gave "congratulations" to Barr for intervening in the Stone case, which he said "perhaps should not have even been brought," as quoted by Politico.