Ethics Expert Warns US Is On “Brink Of Total Destruction” Over Stone Sentencing
The New Civil Rights Movement’s David Badash reports that in a statement to the House of Representatives issued on June 24, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, an Assistant United States Attorney, asserted that “the acting U.S. Attorney was giving [Roger] Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment [in sentencing] because he was ‘afraid of the President.’”
Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, shared this statement in a tweet and wrote,
Short of assassinating opponents or using the military to quell public protests, I can't think of a form of corruption worse than a nation's leader influencing the administration of justice to protect friends and prosecute enemies. America is on the brink of total destruction.
- Zelinsky was one of four federal prosecutors who abruptly resigned from the Stone case before sentencing.
- Stone had been convicted of making false statements to Congress and of witness tampering, the Annenberg Public Policy Center explains.
- Zelinsky explains in his statement that federal sentencing guidelines suggested that Stone had a “total offense level of 29 points” which meant he should receive a sentence of “87–108 months.”
- Zelinsky notes that “the Guidelines have their supporters and detractors,” but “the Department of Justice’s official policy—which was reinforced and made more explicit in 2017—is generally to recommend a sentence within the Guidelines range.”
- Zelinsky and his colleagues prepared “a draft sentencing memorandum… recommending a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range.” A supervisor replied on February 5 that “the sentencing memo was strong, and that Stone ‘deserve[d] every day’ of our recommendation.”
- Despite this, Zelinsky reports that on February 7 he learned that the United States Attorney’s Office was asking the team to “ not to seek all of the Guidelines enhancements that applied to Stone—that is, to provide an inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range.”
When Zelinsky pressed as to why, he received this explanation:
In response, we were told by a supervisor that the U.S. Attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed was unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. Attorney’s instructions, because this case was “not the hill worth dying on” and that we could “lose our jobs” if we did not toe the line… I was explicitly told that the motivation for changing the sentencing memo was political, and because the U.S. Attorney was “afraid of the President.”