The Robert F. Kennedy Building in Washington, D.C., which is home to the headquarters of the United States Department of Justice. (Photo by Coolcaesar)

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

U.S. prosecutors Aaron Zelinsky and John Elisa are scheduled to testify before Congress today about possible political interference in the Department of Justice. The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for the prosecutors last Tuesday, although it was unclear if the two could testify as current officials. 

Zelinsky previously served as a member of the Russia investigation under Special Counsel Robert Mueller. At the time, four prosecutors, including Zelinsky, were expected to recommend Roger Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, consistent with the legal guidelines for his convictions of lying to Congress and intimidating a witness. The night before the filing on February 11, all four prosecutors stepped down in protest after being asked to reduce the recommended sentence. The next day, U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea took over the case and filed a 40-month sentence for Stone. Judge Amy Berman Jackson accepted the shorter recommendation.  

In the midst of the sentencing, President Donald Trump tweeted the term was “unfair,” calling into question Attorney General William Barr’s motivations for pushing for a reduced sentence. In response, a spokeswoman for the DOJ said the original sentence was “excessive and inconsistent with similar cases,” and denied any political motivations. Democrats are now calling Zelinsky a whistle-blower for sharing information about potential political influence in DOJ investigations.

In his prepared opening statements, Zelinsky said, “What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President. I was told that the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations. I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President.’”

The hearing comes just days after President Trump removed Geoffrey Berman, a U.S. attorney for southern New York who had previously opened numerous investigations into the president. 

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

In Scathing Letter, More Than 80-Percent of Faculty at Bill Barr’s Law School Call for His Censure and Resignation – Law & Crime – 6/24/2020
Professors and deans at George Washington University Law School renounced one of their most prominent alumni on Tuesday, releasing a statement vilifying Attorney General William Barr’s conduct since taking up residence in the 45th president’s cabinet. The undersigned faculty members requested that Barr be investigated and censured, but ultimately called for his resignation.

Politics Influenced Justice Department In Roger Stone Case, DOJ Lawyer Tells Hill – NPR – 6/24/2020
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called it notable that Zelinsky had no discussion with the attorney general, the U.S. Attorney and other members of political leadership at Justice about the Stone sentencing.”Instead, Mr. Zelinsky’s allegations concerning the U.S. Attorney’s motivation are based on his own interpretation of events and hearsay (at best), not first-hand knowledge,” Kupec added.

Rep. Jordan: ‘No Politics’ Involved in Roger Stone’s Sentencing – Newsmax – 6/24/2020
The whole premise that Roger Stone was treated differently from any other defendant because of his close relationship with President Donald Trump is false and comes from an “Obama holdover,” Rep. Jim Jordan said Wednesday while commenting on a whistleblower’s claim that pressure was used to lessen his suggested sentence. 

Democrats wrestle with how hard to go after Trump’s scandals – Politico – 6/23/2020
The House has already deployed its strongest check on the president — impeachment — with no appetite among Democratic leadership or the rank and file to pursue the all-consuming process again, this time amid a global pandemic and national debate over police brutality and institutional racism. But Democrats can take other steps to try to impose oversight. And the question of how to address what they view as Trump’s increasing lawlessness has become more difficult.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Media Matters on Twitter, 6/24/2020: The network’s first coverage was this morning; Fox & Friends hosted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who smeared assistant U.S. attorney Aaron Zelinsky — who clerked for two Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices — as a left-wing partisan.

Ian Bassin on Twitter, 6/24/2020: Even if you think you know what’s happening in Trump’s DOJ, actually reading this incredible testimony from Aaron Zelinsky is INSANE. Zelinsky and his team are heroes. The people at DOJ who pressured him should all be impeached. Read the whole thing

NBC News on Twitter, 6/24/2020: “I have never seen political influence play a role in prosecutorial decision making, with one exception: United States v. Roger Stone,” federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky says in testimony prepared for a hearing Wed. before House Judiciary Cmte.

James Hohmann on Twitter, 6/24/2020: I wrote 1,100 words on the topic in the Daily 202. But Aaron’s Zelinsky’s 4,600-word prepared opening statement, which he’ll deliver in the noon hour, is really worth taking the time to read in full. Quite damning.

Washington Examiner on Twitter, 6/24/2020: @ByronYork‘s Daily Memo: Democrats are absolutely giddy about the prospect of former Mueller special counsel prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky testifying before the House Judiciary Committee today.

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