Trump under fire for intervening in Roger Stone case
US President Donald Trump faced fresh accusations of abuse of power Tuesday after appearing to pressure the Justice Department to seek a lighter prison sentence for his longtime political aide Roger Stone.
Stone was convicted in November last year of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to cheat in the 2016 election.
Four government attorneys who prosecuted Stone resigned from the case after their original sentence proposal for seven to nine years was reversed by the department following a critical late-night tweet from Trump.
Trump turned his ire late Tuesday on the judge in Stone's case, Amy Berman Jackson, suggesting she had shown bias against the president's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who has been imprisoned on multiple counts of fraud and other charges.
"Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!" Trump tweeted.
Manafort was held in a self-contained suite in prison, Jackson said during his prosecution, dismissing the defence team's claim that he was in solitary confinement as "disingenuous."
Trump's extraordinary intervention threw the Justice Department into turmoil amid allegations that Attorney General Bill Barr was doing Trump's bidding rather than defending an independent justice system.
Senior House Democrat Adam Schiff said Trump's apparent interference threatened the rule of law.
"It would be a blatant abuse of power if President Trump has in fact intervened to reverse the recommendations of career prosecutors at the Department of Justice," Schiff, who led the impeachment investigation of Trump, said in a statement.
"Doing so would send an unmistakable message that President Trump will protect those who lie to Congress to cover up his own misconduct and that the attorney general will join him in that effort."
The turmoil erupted after federal prosecutors submitted their sentencing request to Jackson on Monday for Stone, the veteran Republican activist and campaign dirty trickster who advised Trump in his 2016 presidential race.
Stone lied in 2017 testimony to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee -- which Schiff leads -- about acting as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released hacked documents that embarrassed Democratic rival Clinton during the campaign.
He was found guilty on all seven counts, the sixth person closely tied to Trump convicted on charges brought by Mueller.
The prosecutors recommended the heavy prison sentence of 87 to 108 months on Monday, saying Stone threatened a witness in the case as well as Jackson, by posting a picture of her on Instagram with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun sight.
'Extreme and excessive'
He also repeatedly lied to the court and disobeyed a gag order, prosecutors said.
Trump criticized the sentencing proposal in an overnight tweet.
"This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!" Trump tweeted.
Early Tuesday morning, an unnamed senior Justice Department official criticized the sentence to reporters.
"The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone's offences," the official said.
In apparent protest, the four Justice attorneys who handled the case withdrew.
A new prosecutor was named to the case who then filed a new sentencing memo, suggesting a 37-to-46 month term was "more in line with the typical sentences imposed in obstruction cases."
Trump denied having interfered, while again condemning the sentencing proposal, telling reporters at the White House it was "ridiculous."
The latest furor came barely a week after Trump won an acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial against charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Democrats called for a new probe into alleged Trump interference in the justice system.
"It is outrageous that DOJ has deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing its recommendation," said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in Congress.
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