Former Special Counsel Aaron Zelinsky has been subpoenaed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow on the subject of “political interference” in Department of Justice criminal cases. Zelinsky was one of the prosecutors who handled the case against Roger Stone. Zelinsky is also one of the prosecutors who filed a sentencing memorandum with the District Court seeking a sentence of 87 months. That sentencing memorandum was withdrawn the following day, and replaced by a Supplemental Memorandum which altered the recommended Sentencing Guideline calculation in such a way as to reduce the recommended sentencing range to 37-46 months.
The Committee has just released Zelinsky’s Opening Statement that he will give tomorrow. I’ll do a deeper dive into some of the issues he raises in his statement, but here is a brief recap of his version of events, along with a small amount of commentary from me.
Zelinsky make a curiously odd statement at the start about a central aspect of the issues surrounding the prosecution of Roger Stone — one in which I think he means one thing, but readers can certainly draw another conclusion that is likely equally true to the one he is asserting. He states:
What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President.
Zelinsky wants you to take away from his words the idea that Stone was treated more “favorably” in his case because of his “relationship to the President.” But a lot of observers might draw the conclusion that the prosecution of Stone — beginning with the dawn raid of his home to take him into custody rather than issue a “penal summons” giving him a date and time for his Arraignment and Plea — was “different from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President” in the sense that the heavy-handed tactics and prosectuorial decisions MADE BY THE SPECIAL COUNSEL’S OFFICE amounted to unfavorable treatment of Stone “different from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President.”
It can easily be argued — which I will do later — that the decisions by the “line prosecutors” at several junctures in the case were intentionally distorted by political considerations. Those political considerations were the one’s that infected the work of the SCO and its quest to find somebody — ANYBODY — to offer incriminating testimony against Donald Trump in their crusade to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and “Russia”.
One thing noteworthy about the statement is that Zelinsky felt compelled to retell and recycle that “Trump Campaign Wants Russian Help” narrative that is about all that remains from the fictitious “Trump-Russia Collusion” narrative that was built around the Steele memos. He spends a decent amount of time recounting Stone’s interactions in the summer of 2016 with Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Steven Bannon, Michael Cohen, and President Trump, all as part of rebuilding the narrative that the Trump Campaign was, in fact, enthusiastic about Stone being an intermediary with Wilileaks and Julian Assange, which was the campaign’s link to Russian efforts to interfere with the election on Trump’s behalf.
Zelinksky drank the “Trump Russia Collusion” Koolaid early on, and to this day he can’t let go. He twice references telephone conversations between Stone and President Trump, only to lament “We don’t know what was said” as if the secret to unraveling the WHOLE THING is just out of reach because Roger Stone and Donald Trump won’t confess what they talked about in those calls.
As for the claims of “political influence” on the outcome of the case — specifically the change in the sentencing recommendation — the outline of his recounting of events is that the line prosecutors wrote a straight-forward and appropriate sentencing recommendation that was submitted for approval. The DC US Attorney’s Office Supervisor on the case — the SCO had disbanded — approved the memorandum, calling it “strong” and saying Stone “deserved every day recommended.” But the line prosecutors later heard that the “leadership” of the Office started to put some pressure to alter the recommended Guideline calculation in order to drop the applicable “sentencing range.” He says the line prosecutors objected, laying out the precise reasons for what they were recommending, and that everything was supported by the evidence in the record of the case.
Eventually, at 7:30 pm on February 10, they were told the Guideline calculation could remain, but they needed to remove the lengthy passage that detailed Stone’s conduct. They agreed to that change (for reasons I’ll explain later), and their initial memorandum was filed that evening.
Zelinsky then notes that at 2:37 am, Pres. Trump tweeted out that the sentencing recommendation was horrible and unfair, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.” Later that morning Zelinsky says they heard of press reports that DOJ was going to alter the memorandum, and when they asked about the reports they were told that the reports were untrue. But later in the day on the Feb. 11, the line prosecutors were told that a new memorandum would be filed asking for a shorter sentence to be imposed. The justification given for the change was that the Acting US Attorney, Timothy Shea, was “afraid of the President.” Zelinsky claims a supervisor in the DC District Attorney’s Office told him Shea was “unethical and wrong.” Zelinsky says he and the other line prosecutors asked to see the new memorandum before it was filed, but their request was denied. He said they didn’t know who was writing it, or when it would be filed. The new memorandum was filed that evening, but Zelinsky had already filed his withdrawal from the case over his concerns about political influence.
Other than making reference to Acting US Attorney Timothy Shea, Zelinsky does not refer by name any other person in the DC US Attorney’s Office. I expect he will refuse to identify anyone by name during the hearing. So what the Committee will have is the testimony of a former Mueller prosecutor, trying to push back against the growing body of evidence that the work of the Mueller Special Counsel’s Office was infected with political considerations with regard to just about everything they did. He wants to try to “right the ship” by claiming that all the prosecutions were done by the numbers, and the real political influence is the efforts by the Barr-led DOJ to correct past egregious over-reach by the SCO in its single-minded pursuit to hang the label of “Russian Agent” around the neck of Trump Campaign officials — or better yet, President Trump himself.
I really can’t wait for the hearing tomorrow — mostly because the cast of buffoons that comprise the Democrat side of the Committee are a guaranteed source of amusement.