Zelinsky Opening Statement Directly Accuses DOJ of Corruption In Stone Sentencing
I know it seems like a long time ago, pre-corona and all that, but try to remember Roger Stone. The Trump camp aide had ties to Wikileaks (effectively a Russian agent) that it used to help time the release of Russian hacked Clinton emails to maximize their effect. He did this, sometimes, in coordination with the Trump Campaign. Stone then lied to Congress about it. He then lied to the Mueller’s investigators about it. He then threatened to kill a witness (and his dog) unless the witness supported those lies by lying himself.
Stone was convicted of all these things by a jury. The judge prepared to sentence him, also taking into consideration that prior to the trial Stone published tweets that threatened the judge in the case (the tweets pictured the judge targeted by crosshairs).
The government attorneys handling the case, the ones who secured the conviction, submitted a sentencing memorandum. The memorandum, as these things are supposed to do, in the formula driven manner of the sentencing guidelines recommended Stone receive something on the low end of 70–87 months in prison. For the record, the defense counsel has the duty to submit its own sentencing memorandum arguing why Stone should receive less. Usually the judge comes up with something in between the two sides. This is standard stuff.
Then, in an echo of things to come with Michael Flynn, things got weird. First Trump tweeted his outrage at the government’s sentencing recommendation.
It was one of many tweets Trump would send, and is still sending, defending a man convicted by a jury for threatening to murder a witness, and who in the middle of that trial threatened, a federal judge.
The next day the Department of Justice intervened, it advised the judge that it was rescinding its prior sentencing memorandum and would substitute a new one prepared by attorneys in DOJ headquarters who had no involvement in the case. The attorneys involved in the case resigned from it in disgust. The DOJ submitted a poorly supported sentencing memo, that often misrepresented the facts of the case and failed to even state Stone’s conduct.
At the sentencing hearing, the DOJ attorneys could not defend their sentencing memo and the judge basically ignored it, sentencing Stone to 40 months in prison. Stone still is not in prison. He has to report by June 30th. Trump’s tweets suggest a pardon will happen before then.
One of the original attorneys in the case, Aaron Zelinsky, testifies on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee. He has pre-released his bombshell opening statement. It makes clear that the revised sentencing memo was a product of corruption rooted in political influence and favoritism. Stone is a buddy of Trump and Trump wanted Stone protected from prison.
Zelinsky details how his team before submitting their memo was pressured to change it, “for political reasons,” how they refused, and resigned from the case in disgust when the DOJ overruled them.
The tone of Zelinsky’s opening statement becomes clear early as he states that normally confidential conversations he had will not be treated as such because internal communications to advance corruption are not privileged.
“The Department of Justice has indicated it may assert certain privileges related to investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Department, and deliberations within the Department. I intend to respect the invocation of these privileges in appropriate circumstances, but also recognize that, for example, the deliberative process privilege does not apply when testimony sheds light on government misconduct, or when the Government has disclosed deliberative information selectively and misleadingly.”
Zelinsky details Stone’s conduct, and anyone who believes the Russia investigation is a hoax, will hear a narrative repudiating their own self-deception. Zelinsky then gets into the preparation of their sentencing memorandum and their calculation of the recommendation based on the sentencing guidelines. They submit the draft memo for supervisor approval. A supervisor responded that the memo was strong, and correct, and that Stone “‘deserve[d] every day’ of our recommendation.” Then suddenly things changed.
“However, just two days later, I learned that our team was being pressured by the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to seek all of the Guidelines enhancements that applied to Stone — that is, to provide an inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range.”
Zelinsky and his team pushed back, arguing that Stone’s egregious crimes, continued un-repentance, and threats to the judge justified the sentencing guideline driven recommendation they made. What Zelinsky says next should send chills down the spine of any American who seeks justice administered without political favor.
“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 . . . I was explicitly told that the motivation for changing the sentencing memo was political, and because the U.S. Attorney was ‘afraid of the President.’”
Zelinksy and his team responded as you would hope principled public servants would. They made clear they would die on that hill.
“We responded that cutting a defendant a break because of his relationship to the President undermined the fundamental principles of the Department of Justice, and that we felt that was an important principle to defend . . . I informed leadership at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. that I would withdraw from the case rather than sign a memo that was the result of wrongful political pressure.”
Bravo! As an American I want to stand up cheer! They filed their sentencing memo that night, with only minor revisions. Then the President’s tweet discussed above came down, and the fecal material hit the wind generating device.
As described above, the DOJ announced it would submit its own sentencing memo. Zelinsky, and his three colleagues, wanting nothing to do with this corruption resigned from the case as they had said they would.
Zelinsky’s last words for his opening statement are, “the truth still matters. And so I am here today to tell you the truth.”
Zelinsky will, of course, be under oath when testifies. Will Barr ever defend himself while similarly under oath?