A federal prosecutor in Baltimore has resigned from a special assignment handling the case of longtime GOP operative Roger Stone after the Department of Justice said it would intervene to scale back the prosecution team’s sentencing recommendation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron S.J. Zelinsky withdrew as a special assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the District of Columbia, where he was detailed to handle the Stone case. Zelinsky had beenpart of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and links between Russian officials and Trump associates.
By late Tuesday, all four prosecutors on the Stone case had withdrawn, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. wrote in a new sentencing memorandum that it would defer to the court on what it believes would be an appropriate sentence.
Zelinsky remains a federal prosecutor in Baltimore, assigned to the fraud and public corruption Section. He has worked for the Maryland office since 2014.
Zelinsky and a fellow prosecutor asked a judge to sentence Stone to seven-to-nine years in prison, saying he committed a “direct and brazen attack on the rule of law.” In November, a jury convicted Stone of lying to Congress and obstructing an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in an effort to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
President Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that the recommendation was “horrible and very unfair.” “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
The Justice Department said the decision to shorten the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.
Before joining Mueller’s team, Zelinsky was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case of a serial burglar who killed a Northwest Baltimore jeweler in 2009, and he was involved in the prosecution of a health fraud case in which one of the defendants also was convicted of a murder.
He also previously clerked on the Supreme Court, for John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy, from 2013 to 2014, and special assistant to the State Department’s legal adviser in the Obama administration, according to profile in the Connecticut Mirror, an online public policy news site in that state.
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It is rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court. Normally, assistant U.S. attorneys have wide latitude to recommend sentences on cases they prosecuted.
Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original Justice Department recommendation. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has scolded Stone repeatedly for his out-of-court behavior, which included a social media post he made of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.
Federal prosecutors also recently softened their sentencing position on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying that they would not oppose a sentence of probation after initially saying that he deserved up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI. The Flynn prosecution also is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.
Stone has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during his trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.
Prosecutors charged that Stone lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host Randy Credico — who had scored an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 — and conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Because of incorrect information supplied by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Aaron Zelinsky’s duties were incorrectly stated. He is with the fraud and public corruption section. The Sun regrets the error.