President Trump on Wednesday denied interfering in former associate Roger Stone’s criminal case amid a political storm over his looming sentencing, while declining to say whether he’d consider a pardon for the GOP political operative.
The president also continued to rail against federal prosecutors who had initially recommended a lengthy sentence for Stone, calling it a “disgrace.” He spoke out shortly before the Justice Department confirmed Attorney General Bill Barr will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31; Democrats on the panel have raised concerns over the department’s handling of the Stone case, among other issues.
Federal prosecutors had on Monday recommended a sentence of between 87 and 108 months in prison for Stone's conviction on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress on charges that stemmed from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
But in a stunning reversal, as Fox News first reported, leadership at the Justice Department (DOJ) overruled the prosecutors on the case, scaling back the proposed sentence for Stone, which immediately led Democrats to accuse Trump interfering in the process.
“The fact is that Roger Stone was treated horribly and so were many other people,” Trump said. “Their lives were destroyed.”
He added: “Roger Stone -- nobody even knows what he did... Frankly, they ought to apologize to a lot of people whose lives they’ve ruined.”
The president was asked Wednesday whether he’d consider extending a pardon to Stone, to which he replied: “I don’t want to say yet, but I tell you what, people were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people.”
“I want to thank the Justice Department -- and I didn’t speak to them, by the way -- they saw a nine-year sentence... nine years for something nobody can even define what he did,” Trump continued. “They put a man in jail, destroy his life, his family, his wife.”
He added: “Nine years in jail -- it’s a disgrace. Meanwhile, [former FBI Director James] Comey walks around getting book deals, the people who launched the investigation.”
The president’s comments come after four of the prosecutors who had been on the Stone case abruptly withdrew in an apparent protest. One of the prosecutors even resigned from the Justice Department.
“I’m not concerned about anything,” Trump said, after claiming those prosecutors had gone “rogue” in an early morning tweet. “They should go back to school and learn because let me tell you, the way they treated people, no one should be treated that way.”
A senior DOJ official confirmed to Fox News that senior leadership officials there made the call to reverse the initial sentencing recommendation, saying the filing on Monday evening was not only extreme but also substantially inconsistent with how the prosecutors had briefed DOJ leadership on how they would proceed on the case.
The “general communication” between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the main DOJ had led senior officials to expect a more moderate sentence, the official told Fox News.
But Democrats vehemently protested the move. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for an inspector general investigation into the decision to ask for a lighter sentence, and other Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris from California, demanded that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hold a hearing and call Attorney General William Barr to testify.
“The Justice Department’s decision to overrule its career prosecutors, immediately after President Trump’s tweet, calls into question the independence and integrity of our legal system,” Harris said in a statement.
Stone is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Feb. 20 after his conviction stemming from charges of witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstruction.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson, David Spunt and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.