All four federal prosecutors in Roger Stone case resign after DOJ insists on lower sentencing recommendation

The right thing to do. No one can stop Trump from handing out corrupt pardons to his sleazy cronies but a prosecutor can and should refuse to revisit what he believes is the proper sentencing recommendation just because it gave the president the sads. People should keep resigning until Bill Barr himself has to go into court and inform the judge personally that he’s been notified by a tweet that the original sentence was too harsh.

Ed speculated this morning that Stone (and Mike Flynn, and probably Paul Manafort) will be pardoned shortly after the election. I disagree. I used to think Trump would wait until after the election but now I think he’s going to do this soon, possibly before the month is out. That’s the “lesson” he learned from impeachment: No matter what he does, the party will have his back. All the yammering this past week from Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander about Trump supposedly learning to behave better from the “ordeal” of impeachment is already being exposed as the nonsense it is, less than a week after the final Senate vote. They’ll never hold him to account. There’s no way he waits until November to spring Stone and Flynn now.

But that’s also why I believe the DOJ when they say Trump didn’t intervene directly to get Stone’s sentencing recommendation changed. Right, he didn’t need to. He’d already tweeted about the alleged injustice of it and he’s planning to let Stone out of jail anyway sooner rather than later. The recommendation is academic except insofar as it made the boss unhappy and so the DOJ leadership now feels obliged to scramble to show fealty.

Hours after the Justice Department said that it would lower Mr. Stone’s guidelines, a prosecutor on the case, Jonathan Kravis, told the court he had resigned “and therefore no longer represents the government in this matter.”

And a member of Mr. Mueller’s team who helped lead the prosecution of Mr. Stone, Aaron Zelinsky, withdrew from the case. He also resigned from a special assignment with the United States attorney’s office in Washington, though he will continue to work for the Justice Department in Baltimore.

The resignations are coming faster than the media can keep up. Since the NYT reported that, a third prosecutor has resigned from the case:

And then a fourth:

The DOJ’s explanation for wanting the sentencing recommendation lowered is that prosecutors on the Stone case allegedly lied to them about the sentence they planned to request for him. “The Department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation in the filing in the Stone case last night,” said an official to Fox News. “The sentencing recommendation was not what had been briefed to the Department.” WaPo also claims that there were disagreements between DOJ brass and the front-line prosecutors handling the matter, which is interesting in itself:

As Monday’s court deadline neared for prosecutors to give a sentencing recommendation, it was still unclear what the office would do, after days of tense internal debates on the subject, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Front-line prosecutors, some previously from Mueller’s team, argued for a prison sentence on the higher end, while their bosses wanted to calculate the guidelines differently to get to a lower sentence. The debate centered around whether they should seek more prison time for obstruction that impedes the administration of justice, these people said…

Mary McCord, a former prosecutor and acting assistant attorney general for the department’s National Security Division, said decisions related to the sentencing of such high-profile political figures would not be made without initial consultation between a U.S. attorney’s office and Justice Department headquarters, and that it was is hard to imagine the department was truly taken aback.

Ken White, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, also finds it far-fetched:

Yeah, I’d be curious to know how often DOJ brass intervene to demand leniency on behalf of a poor misunderstood defendant because their own prosecutors, who’ve already obtained a conviction, are being hard-asses about the sentence.

I’d also be curious to know if there’s any hard evidence that Kravis, Zelinsky, and Zed briefed their bosses on one sentencing recommendation and then turned around in court and made a completely different recommendation. Any emails attesting to that? Texts? If Barr and his team were prepared to accept the political fallout of changing the sentencing recommendation because they had been (supposedly) misled, why didn’t Barr fire the three of them before they resigned? Surely lying to superiors, especially in a high-profile case, is grounds for dismissal.

I assume the MAGA view of this will be that Zelinsky and Kravis are Mueller guys and therefore the hidden hand of Mueller is at work here, somehow squeezing the acting U.S. Attorney presiding over the case, Timothy Shea. But Shea is a former close advisor to Barr, per WaPo; with a friend as highly placed as that, and with the power inherent in his position, he’s not going to be pushed around by rank-and-file prosecutors. Did Shea sign off on the harsh sentencing recommendation for Stone? All WaPo will say is that he hadn’t made a decision yet in the final hours before the sentencing recommendation was due. If anyone got muscled here by a heavy hand, I wonder if it was Shea by first siding with the sentence Kravis et al. wanted and then getting an earful about it afterward from Barr.

The most charitable interpretation of all this for the DOJ apart from the “Mueller guys gone rogue!” theory is that they wanted a lighter sentence for Stone because they believed that a harsher one would only make a Trump pardon that much more likely. If he gets three years, he’ll serve one with good behavior, perhaps. Maybe the president will let him serve a sentence that short, as Trump knows that a corrupt pardon is a political liability for him (which is why Flynn hasn’t been pardoned yet). Whereas if Stone gets seven years and has to serve three, maybe Trump will decide that his big win on impeachment has given him enough political capital to start pardoning people immediately. Conceivably, and paradoxically, DOJ leaders may have thought Stone would do more time with a lighter sentence given the risk of a Trump pardon than he’d do with a heavier one.

But we’re giving the leadership a *lot* of credit ethically and morally if we assume that. Occam’s Razor suggests that they’re intervening here because they know the president will be displeased if his friend gets a harsh sentence and want to minimize the risk of that to whatever extent possible.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s another comment from Trump this afternoon proving again, contra Alexander and Collins, that he learned a very particular lesson from the trial and it wasn’t “play nice from now on.”