WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump congratulated his attorney general Wednesday for intervening to lower the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone, broadening concerns that the department is ceding its independence to the White House.
Later Wednesday, Trump said that Stone was treated “very badly” and that prosecutors “ought to apologize to him.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office ahead of a meeting with President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador, Trump denied that his tweet about Attorney General William Barr was political and called the prosecution of Stone “a disgrace.”
Asked whether he would pardon Stone, the president said, “I don’t want to say that yet, but I tell you what, people were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people.”
He added that it was unfair that prosecutors recommended that Stone be sentenced to nine years in prison when James Comey, the former FBI director, has not been jailed.
Asked what lessons he learned from having been impeached and acquitted, Trump said that “the Democrats are crooked. They got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.”
The Justice Department said Tuesday that the Stone case was not discussed with anyone at the White House. The decision to override the recommended sentence was made by officials from the offices of Barr and the deputy attorney general.
In November, Stone was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry — the House Intelligence Committee’s examination of Russian interference in the 2016 election — lying to investigators under oath and trying to block the testimony of a witness who would have exposed his lies.
The president’s comments come less than 24 hours after four career prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case after the department overruled their recommended seven- to nine-year term for Stone, a sentence Trump had publicly criticized.
Of the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case Tuesday, one lawyer fully resigned from the Justice Department where he worked as a trial lawyer in the Public Integrity section.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, called the situation “unprecedented.”
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