All four Stone prosecutors resign from case after DOJ backpedals on sentencing recommendation

The prosecution team in Roger Stone's criminal case abruptly resigned from the case on Tuesday after the Justice Department said it planned to reduce the recommended sentence for the longtime Trump associate.

The Justice Department on Tuesday said it was pulling back on its request to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison after President Donald Trump blasted the sentencing proposal as "a miscarriage of justice."

The revised recommendation doesn't ask for a particular sentence but says the one that was recommended earlier "does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter" and that the actual sentence should be "far less."

It urges the judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, to consider Stone’s “advanced age, health, person circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence.”

"The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration," but based "on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances. Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case," the filing said.

After reports that a softer sentencing recommendation was imminent, lead prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky withdrew as a prosecutor in the case. A footnote in his court filing noted that "the undersigned attorney has resigned effective immediately."

Zelinsky, who was a part of former special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election interference, is not resigning from the Justice Department but is leaving the Washington, D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office and returning to his old job with the U.S. Attorney in Maryland.

Another one of the prosecutors, Jonathan Kravis, also resigned— both from the case and his job as an assistant U.S. attorney. Kravis on Tuesday filed a notice with the judge saying he "no longer represents the government in this matter." The other two prosecutors, Adam Jed and Michael Marando, also withdrew from the case.

Trump in a tweet earlier in the day called the department's initial sentencing proposal "disgraceful!"

"This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” the president wrote in a follow-up post on Twitter. "The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!"

Top Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec told NBC News that the decision to reverse course on the sentencing recommendation was made prior to Trump’s almost 2 a.m. tweet.

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Roger Stone through the years
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Roger Stone through the years
Political advisor Roger Stone poses for a portrait following an interview in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Attorney Roy Cohn (c.) with Roger Stone (l.) and Mark Fleischman (r.). (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City. Potential members of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet have been meeting with him and his transition team over the last few weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater are young political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo By Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Roger Stone, Ex-Donald Trump Advisor, talks with Jonathan Alter during an episode of Alter Family Politics on SiriusXM at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Political operative Roger Stone attends rally on the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in downtown Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The convention runs through July 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
HILTON HOTEL MIDTOWN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2016/07/16: Roger Stone attends Donald Trump introduction to Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 19: Roger Stone attends Roger Stone Exclusive Photo Session on August 19, 1987 at Alan Flusser Boutique in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 27: Trump ally Roger Stone Whom Robert Mueller recently arrested in a pre dawn raid at this home by the head of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference, while he was in the house filming with Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer he just sent his second wife Nydia Bertran Stone out Shopping Credit: Hoo-Me.com / MediaPunch *** NO NY PAPERS*** /IPX
FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo, Roger Stone, left, with his wife Nydia Stone, leaves federal court in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Stone to serve between 7 and 9 years in prison after his conviction on witness tampering and obstruction charges. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Roger Stone leaves federal court in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, has been found guilty at his trial in federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
ARLINGTON, VA - FEBRUARY 3: Roger Stone seen arriving at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on his way to Boston on February 3, 2019. Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX
PASADENA, CA - JULY 29: Roger Stone pictured during Weed Nation Panel Discussion at day 1 of Politicon The Unconventional Convention 2017 at The Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California on July 29, 2017. Credit: Faye Sadou/MediaPunch /IPX
In this Nov. 12, 2019 file photo, Roger Stone, a longtime Republican provocateur and former confidant of President Donald Trump, waits in line at the federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2019 file photo, Roger Stone, a longtime Republican provocateur and former confidant of President Donald Trump, waits in line at the federal court in Washington. A Justice Department official tells the AP that the agency is backing away from its sentencing recommendation of between seven to nine years in prison for Trump confidant Roger Stone. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Roger Stone, and his wife Nydia, arrive at Federal Court for his federal trial in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Al Drago)
Roger Stone, and his wife Nydia, arrive at Federal Court for his federal trial in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Al Drago)
Roger Stone departs the Federal Court with his daughter Adria, after the third day of his trial, in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Roger Stone waits with his wife Nydia in the lobby of the federal courthouse after the third day of his trial, in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Roger Stone arrives at Federal Court for his federal trial in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife, Nydia Stone, leaves federal court in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
Roger Stone, an associate of President Donald Trump, leaves the U.S. District Court, after a court status conference on his seven charges: one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering, in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Stone has pleaded not guilty to the charges. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
This courtroom sketch shows former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone talking from the witness stand as prosecution attorney Jonathan Kravis, standing left, Stone's attorney Bruce Rogow, third from right, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson listen, during a court hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Berman Jackson issued a broad gag order forbidding Stone to discuss his criminal case with anyone and gave him a stinging reprimand over his posting of a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)
Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone leaves the federal court in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, as his daughter Adria, Stone walks in front of him. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
This courtroom sketch shows former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone talking from the witness stand as Judge Amy Berman Jackson listens during a court hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Berman Jackson issued a broad gag order forbidding Stone to discuss his criminal case with anyone and gave him a stinging reprimand over his posting of a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 4: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Trump ally Roger Stone (Born: August 27, 1952 age 66 years) seen in good sprits eating dinner. Roger Jason Stone Jr. is an American political consultant, lobbyist and strategist noted for his use of opposition research, usually for candidates of the Republican Party on February, 2019 in Miami, Florida ***NO NY NEWSPAPERS*** People: Roger Stone Credit: Hoo-me.com/MediaPunch /IPX
Roger Stone leaves the federal court Friday, Feb. 1, 2019 in Washington. Stone appeared for a status conference just three days after he pleaded not guilty to felony charges of witness tampering, obstruction and false statements. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone, leaves federal court in Washington, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. Stone was back in court in the special counsel's Russia investigation as prosecutors say they have recovered "voluminous and complex" potential evidence in the case, including financial records, emails and computer hard drives. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Roger Stone, longtime friend and confidant of President Donald Trump, waits to speak to members of the media in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers, engaging in witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign. He pleaded not guilty this week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Roger Stone, longtime friend and confidant of President Donald Trump, waits to speak to members of the media at at a hotel in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers, engaging in witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign. He pleaded not guilty this week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Roger Stone, longtime friend and confidant of President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers, engaging in witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign. He pleaded not guilty this week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump's longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone speaks to members of the media at JW Marriot in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone, arrives at Federal Court, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Washington. Stone was arrested in the special counsel's Russia investigation and was charged with lying to Congress and obstructing the probe. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
People gather to show support and protest former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone, after he departed federal court in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Stone left the federal courthouse without speaking publicly after entering a not guilty plea to charges filed in the special counsel's Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 27: Trump ally Roger Stone Whom Robert Mueller recently arrested in a pre dawn raid at this home by the head of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference, while he was in the house filming with Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer he just sent his second wife Nydia Bertran Stone out Shopping Credit: Hoo-Me.com / MediaPunch *** NO NY PAPERS*** /IPX
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 26: First picture of Trump ally Roger Stone (Born: August 27, 1952 age 66 years) at his home after Muller Arrest. Rodger was in great sprits with a big thumbs up on January 26, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida People: Roger Stone Credit: Hoo-Me.com / MediaPunch *** NY PAPERS OUT***** /IPX
Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone walks out of the federal courthouse following a hearing, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Stone was arrested Friday in the special counsel's Russia investigation and was charged with lying to Congress and obstructing the probe. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump, left, leaves the federal courthouse with his attorney Grant Smith following a hearing, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Stone was arrested Friday in the special counsel's Russia investigation and was charged with lying to Congress and obstructing the probe. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump, left, and radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, right, enter the House Judiciary Committee hearing room to hear testimony by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Washington. Stone says there is "not one shred of evidence" that he was involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election. Stone's interview comes as the House and Senate intelligence panels are looking into the Russian meddling and possible links to Trump's campaign. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Political consultant Roger Stone attends a screening of "Get Me Roger Stone" at the SVA Theatre during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 23, 2017 in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)
Political consultant Roger Stone attends a screening of "Get Me Roger Stone" at the SVA Theatre during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 23, 2017 in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)
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The president told reporters in the Oval Office later Tuesday that he did not speak to DOJ about Stone's sentencing. "I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn't believe," he said, before adding that he "thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous."

"I thought it was an insult to our country and it shouldn't happen," Trump said. "These are the same Mueller people who put everybody through hell and I think it's a disgrace."

Joyce Vance, an MSNBC contributor and former federal prosecutor, tweeted the dual withdrawal notices from the prosecutors speak "loudly to those of us who used to work at DOJ. There is a 4-alarm fire at Justice."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a tweet called on the Justice Department Inspector General to "open an investigation "immediately."

"The president seems to think the entire Justice Department is just his personal lawsuit to prosecute his enemies and help his friends. Rule of law in this grand tradition in this wonderful Justice Department is just being totally perverted to Donald Trump's own personal desires and needs and it's a disgrace," Schumer told reporters in Washington, D.C. "Roger Stone should get the full amount of time the prosecutors recommended and we're going to do some oversight of that."

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who was the lead prosecutor in Trump's impeachment trial, said that "if If reports are correct, the Department of Justice and Attorney General Bill Barr are poised to overrule career prosecutors who made a sentencing recommendation yesterday, following a midnight tweet from the President attacking the proposed length of sentence."

Schiff said it would "it would be a blatant abuse of power if President Trump has in fact intervened to reverse the recommendations of career prosecutors at the Department of Justice."

"Doing so would send an unmistakable message that President Trump will protect those who lie to Congress to cover up his own misconduct, and that the Attorney General will join him in that effort. Coupled with the President’s blatant retaliation against those who helped expose his wrongdoing, the Trump Administration poses the gravest threat to the rule of law in America in a generation," Schiff said.

David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official, tweeted that the move was "a shocking, cram-down political intervention in the criminal justice process. We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept."

Federal prosecutors initially sought seven to nine years in prison for Stone in a sentencing memorandum they filed Monday in Washington, D.C. Prosecutors said the recommendation was in line with the sentencing guideline outlined by federal law.

"Roger Stone obstructed Congress's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness," prosecutors wrote in a 26-page memo. "When his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this court and the rule of law."

In Stone's sentencing memo, his lawyers argued a sentence of 15-21 months would be appropriate — and that anything above that was excessive.

Stone, a self-described "dirty trickster," has been well-known in conservative circles dating to President Richard Nixon's campaign. Stone, a Trump associate for over three decades, also served early on as an adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign and has called the case against him politically motivated.

Stone was arrested and charged just over a year ago. He was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of the former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. The colorful trial in Washington lasted nearly two weeks and featured references to "The Godfather Part II," threats of dognapping, complaints of food poisoning and a gag order. The jury deliberated for two days before handing down the verdict.

The revised sentencing memorandum downplays the witness tampering charge, noting that the victim of Stone's threat of physical harm, talk radio host Randy Credico, "asserts that he did not perceive a genuine threat from the defendant but rather stated that ‘I never in any way felt that Stone himself posed a direct physical threat to me or my dog'."

As a member of Mueller's team, Zelinsky would play both good and bad cop while questioning witnesses in the Russia probe, witnesses told MSNBC's Ari Melber last year. Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg said Zelinsky, who has clerked for Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Paul Stevens, was professional and asked appropriate questions. Another witness, Jerome Corsi, said Zelinsky was "a thug" who was "acting up" during his questioning.

This is not the first time a Trump associate in a Mueller-derived case has caught a sentencing break. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison last March by a federal judge in Virginia on financial fraud charges, considerably less than the federal guidelines of 19½ to 24 years. The judge in that case, Judge T.S. Ellis, called the guidelines "excessive."

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