Prosecutor who quit Roger Stone case to testify before Congress about 'politicization' of DOJ

Prosecutor who quit Roger Stone case to testify before Congress about 'politicization' of DOJ
© Bonnie Cash

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday subpoenaed two Department of Justice officials, including a former prosecutor in the case against Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJudge gives Stone an extra 14 days to report to prison DOJ denies giving Stone special treatment over prison sentence delay Barr denies pattern of upholding Trump's interests, blames 'media narrative' MORE, to testify about "unprecedented politicization" at the agency under President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDemocrat asks Barr to preserve any records tied to environmental hacking probe Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Ousted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week MORE.

Nadler said the two Department of Justice (DOJ) officials will testify June 24 as part of the committee's investigation into improper political interference at the DOJ. The hearing will feature Aaron Zelinsky, who quit the case against Stone, and John Elias, the acting chief of staff for the DOJ's Antitrust Division.

Democrats are presenting Zelinsky and Elias as whistleblowers.

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In a statement, Nadler hit Barr for failing to testify, while commending those in government who have come forward.

"The Committee welcomes the testimony of current and former Department officials who will speak to the lasting damage the President and the Attorney General have inflicted on the Department of Justice," Nadler said.

“The Attorney General — who cites his busy schedule as a basis for refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee but has made time for multiple television interviews — may have abdicated his responsibility to Congress, but the brave men and women of our civil service have not," he said.

Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer is also slated to testify.

Nadler launched the DOJ probe after Barr chose to overrule career prosecutors by requesting a lighter sentence for Stone, a longtime Trump ally.

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Zelinsky, a DOJ official who served as an attorney in the special counsel's office during its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, was among the group of four prosecutors who withdrew from the case against Stone after the department overruled their sentencing recommendation in favor of a more lenient punishment earlier this year. 

Trump has denied allegations that he pressed the DOJ to ask for a lesser sentence for Stone, though he called the initial recommendation “ridiculous,” stating that Stone was "treated very badly." He also insisted he had an “absolute right” to ask the Justice Department to intervene.

Barr at the time warned Trump against commenting on active criminal cases, stating that his tweets made it "impossible" for him to do his job.

Elias — who spent several years as the president of DOJ Pride, a group of LGBT department employees — is expected to testify about "improperly motivated activity by the Antitrust Division," according to Nadler.

DOJ's Antitrust Division is tasked with overseeing mergers and enforcing competition law. The division has been plagued by questions of improper political influence throughout the Trump administration.

Trump reportedly urged the DOJ to sue to stop the AT&T-Time Warner merger early in his presidency because of the potential benefits to CNN, a Time Warner subsidiary. The department unsuccessfully brought a court challenge against the mega-merger in 2017.

Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust, has denied that the lawsuit was politically motivated or directed by Trump.

The House Judiciary Committee investigation comes as Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated by Barr's actions in cases involving Trump allies, including the DOJ's handling of its case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Their distrust of Barr dates back to his role in handling the rollout of the Mueller report.