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DOJ moves to overrule prosecutors who sought lengthy prison sentence for Roger Stone

Posted at 12:45 PM, Feb 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 14:45:04-05

The Department of Justice plans to lower its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone just hours after its own federal prosecutors told a judge he should serve between 7 and 9 years in prison.

In a filing Monday night in federal court in Washington, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said Stone should serve a lengthy prison term as a form of "general deterrence." Stone was convicted in November on seven counts including obstruction, witness tampering and lying to investigators in a case that stemmed from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

But a senior Justice Department official told CBS News on Tuesday that the department was "shocked" by the 7- to 9-year sentence recommendation.

"This is not what was briefed to the department," the official said. "The department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone's offenses."

The official said the department will "clarify its position" with the court later Tuesday.

The move immediately raised questions about potential political interference in a federal prosecution, coming shortly after President Trump called Stone's case a "horrible and very unfair situation" and a "miscarriage of justice" in an early morning tweet.

But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec denied any communication between the White House and the department about the sentence recommendation, saying department leadership made the decision to seek a shorter prison term after the court filing became available Monday evening.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that a dispute arose within the U.S. Attorney's Office over the initial sentence recommendation. Citing two people familiar with the discussions, The Post said "frontline prosecutors, some previously with Mueller's team" argued for a prison term that was longer "than some of their supervisors were comfortable with." Two of the prosecutors still involved in Stone's case — Adam Jed and Aaron Zelinsky — were also involved in the special counsel investigation.

The decision to recommend 7 to 9 years ultimately fell to interim U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, a former top adviser to Attorney General William Barr. Shea's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Stone's sentencing is scheduled for February 20. His attorneys argued Stone should avoid prison altogether and be sentenced to probation or home detention, telling the court he has unspecified medical problems and poses a very low risk of repeating his crimes.