At least 50,000 people have already signed a petition that calls for the investigation into a decision by the Department of Justice to reduce the prison sentence for Roger Stone, a former adviser of President Donald Trump, who was arrested last year after the obstruction of the Congress investigation into the Russian meddling in the presidential elections of 2016.
“The Department of Justice appears to be putting Donald Trump’s friends above the law,” reads the petition which was published on MoveOn.org, reaching more than 51,800 signatures by early Wednesday morning.
“The Justice Department’s internal watchdog must investigate the corrupt about-face made at the seeming behest of Donald Trump and call out cronyism within its own ranks,” it states. “But given how compromised disgraced Attorney General William Barr is, we cannot trust the Justice Department to correct its course. The House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of Barr, must also investigate independently.”
With tens of thousands of signatures collected overnight, the petition came following the resignation of the four prosecutors who were working on the Stone case, after the DOJ pushed to reduce the sentence that was initially proposed.
The reversal quickly sparked outrage, particularly given that it followed closely on the heels of a tweet from President Donald Trump, who branded the prosecution’s initial recommendation of a seven to nine-year prison sentence “very horrible and unfair”, Newsweek reported.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” the President tweeted following the initial Monday sentencing reccomendation.
Hours later, Timothy Shea, the U.S. Attorney for Washington who had only recently joined the case, appeared to agree with Trump, asserting in a new court filing that the proposed seven to nine-year sentence had been “excessive and unwarranted”.
“While it remains the position of the United States that a sentence of incarceration is warranted here, the government respectfully submits that the range of 87 to 108 months presented as the applicable advisory Guidelines range would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case,” the filing said.
Instead, it says: “The government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances.”
A senior Justice Department official, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said the timing of Trump’s tweet and the lowered sentencing recommendation was an “inconvenient coincidence”.
The recommendation prompted prosecutors Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis to withdraw from the case, with Kravis saying he would be quitting as a federal prosecutor.
Noting that all four of the federal attorneys “responsible for pursuing justice for Stone’s crimes have resigned in protest,” the MoveOn petition accuses the Justice Department of having undone “the work of career civil servants prosecuting Trump’s confidante.”
Stone is expected to be sentenced on February 20 for his crimes. He was convicted in November of obstructing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lying to investigators under oath and engaging in witness tampering by attempting to block the testimony of a witness with the potential to expose wrongdoings.
In his filing, Shea asked that the court consider the defendant’s advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence.
“A sentence of 87 to 108 months more typically has been imposed for defendants who have higher criminal history categories or who obstructed justice as part of a violent criminal organization,” he wrote. However, ultimately, he said, “the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case.”
Newsweek has contacted MoveOn, the DOJ, DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, the House Judiciary Committee and a legal representative of Stone for comment.