Four federal prosecutors stepped down from the case against Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump who was convicted in November of lying to Congress under oath during the Trump-Russia investigation, according to multiple news reports.
According to the Associated Press, the group resignation was in response to a Justice Department move to reduce Stone’s sentencing from the original recommendation of seven to nine years — on the same day as President Trump had complained Stone was being treated unfairly.
On Twitter, Trump spoke bitterly about the possibly “rogue” prosecutors originally involved in the case and praised Attorney General Bill Barr for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
The Justice Department’s decision to reverse its original recommendation has raised concern among Democrats and some observers who argued the move signaled a clear influence from Trump over the DOJ, betraying the department’s goal of staying politically neutral in prosecuting crimes.
Further, critics say the department’s conspicuous reversal will show other witnesses who lie to protect the president that they will be protected themselves by his administration.
A Justice Department spokeswoman denied that Trump had any role in the move, telling the Times that there hadn’t been discussion with the White House or a decision to react to his tweets. (The DOJ did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
The president also insisted to reporters that he had not gotten “involved” and argued that his tweets on the matter were not political.
“They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Trump, 73, said of the original prosecutors, adding, “I think it’s been disgraceful.”
Stone, 67, is scheduled to be sentenced next week after he was convicted in November on charges of witness tampering and obstruction of Congress during special counsel Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to the AP.
The Department of Justice has previously said Stone tried to hinder the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and what the Trump campaign knew about that. Part of House investigation included Russia’s involvement in the release of damaging Democratic emails via WikiLeaks in 2016.
Stone purposefully misidentified radio host Randy Credico as his “intermediary” to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, according to the prosecutor’s office. He also lied about the communications he had with his “intermediary,” if he discussed his Wikileaks connection with the Trump campaign and other misleading falsehoods.
Most damning of all, according to the government, Stone tried to pressure Credico to confirm his account. If not that, Stone wanted Credico to say he’d forgotten the related events.
The judge in the case will ultimately determine his sentence, not federal prosecutors.
The AP reported that on Monday prosecutors asked for Stone to serve up to nine years in prison, citing what they called an ongoing and flagrant attempt to deceive authorities and interfere with their investigation.
President Trump complained on Twitter on Tuesday that the sentencing recommendation was “ridiculous.”
That same day, the DOJ filed a new recommendation seeking an “unspecified” length of incarceration instead of the seven-to-nine year sentence, according to the Times.
The reversal came soon after Trump began complaining that the DOJ was being too harsh on Stone, Trump’s longtime ally, and led to the four prosecutors — attorneys Jonathan Kravis, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Adam C. Jed, and Michael J. Marando — to quit the case, with one of them quitting the department completely.
“They are talented lawyers and nice people,” Stone’s lawyer Bruce Rogow said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Rogow declined to comment on the DOJ’s change in his client’s sentencing, beyond what the defense team had argued in its own filings. “Their sentencing recommendation of 7-9 years for Roger FAR EXCEEDS the norm,” Kristin Davis, a Stone ally who once lived with him and testified in the Mueller investigation, tells PEOPLE.
Trump is using the powers of the presidency like a tyrant—now, to reward accomplices and go after witnesses who dared to speak against him. This should concern and anger us all. https://t.co/fJdWKpUJIt— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 12, 2020
Roger Stone lied to Congress and threatened a witness to cover up Trump campaign contacts with Wikileaks.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 11, 2020
He was found guilty on all charges.
Barr overruling career prosecutors at Trump’s urging is a disgraceful attack on the rule of law.
Has DOJ no independence left? https://t.co/eMDGGmXXFi
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, took another view — echoing other criticism of the Justice Department’s move following Trump’s complaints.
“Trump is using the powers of the presidency like a tyrant—now, to reward accomplices and go after witnesses who dared to speak against him,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. “This should concern and anger us all.”
“The rule of law [and] our democracy are in crisis,” Clinton added earlier Tuesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the impeachment case against Trump in the House of Representatives last year, called for the president and the DOJ to be investigated.
“By tweet @realDonaldTrump engaged in political interference in the sentencing of Roger Stone,” Pelosi wrote. “It is outrageous that DOJ has deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing its recommendation. Stepping down of prosecutors should be commended & actions of DOJ should be investigated.”
On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted that “we can’t” begin to measure the damage Attorney General Barr’s reversal does to the independence and integrity of the DOJ.
“Roger Stone lied to Congress and threatened a witness to cover up Trump campaign contacts with Wikileaks,” Schiff wrote on Twitter. “He was found guilty on all charges. Barr overruling career prosecutors at Trump’s urging is a disgraceful attack on the rule of law. Has DOJ no independence left?”