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'Heavy pressure' put on prosecutors to give president's friend Stone 'a break'

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Controversy: Trump fixer Roger Stone

Controversy: Trump fixer Roger Stone

REUTERS

Controversy: Trump fixer Roger Stone

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony yesterday from a federal prosecutor and another witness who have accused Attorney General William Barr and his top deputies of acting "based on political considerations" and a desire to appease President Donald Trump.

Aaron Zelinsky, an assistant US attorney in Maryland formerly detailed to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, told the panel that prosecutors involved in the criminal trial of Trump's friend Roger Stone experienced "heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice" to give Stone "a break" by requesting a lighter sentence.

Mr Zelinsky testified about how he was pressured to offer a more lenient sentencing recommendation for Trump associate Roger Stone, and the reason was political.

"I was told that the acting US attorney was giving Stone a break because he was afraid of the president of the United States," Mr Zelinsky testified.

He said that he and his fellow career prosecutors resisted efforts to reduce their sentencing recommendation and were told "we could be fired if we didn't go along". He said he was not given a good legal reason for offering a lighter recommendation.

"What I heard repeatedly was that this leniency was happening because of Stone's relationship to the president, that the acting US attorney for the District of Columbia was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice and that his instructions to us were based on political considerations," Mr Zelinsky said.

He conceded he did not have first-hand knowledge of discussions among political leadership. He said he and his colleagues were initially allowed to file the recommendation they wanted, only to have the Justice Department later reverse course after Mr Trump tweeted his anger over the matter.

"It pains me to describe these events, but Judge [Amy Berman] Jackson said in this case, the truth still matters. And so I am here today to tell you the truth," he said.

Mr Zelinsky was joined by John Elias, an official in the Justice Department's antitrust division, who said that Barr ordered staff to investigate marijuana company mergers because of his "personal dislike" of their business.

Also appearing was former US attorney general Michael Mukasey who defended Barr against accusations of political interference, describing Trump's attorney general as "an experienced lawyer and leader".

"The Justice Department is not politicised because senior officials disagreed with the sentencing recommendation for Mr Stone," Mr Mukasey said.

Irish Independent