WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Wednesday called for an emergency hearing and investigation into the Justice Department's decision to reduce its recommended sentence for longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone.
Top Democrats are pushing for the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to review the decision that led to the sudden resignation of all of the four prosecutors Tuesday from the Stone criminal case. Stone was found guilty in November of all seven counts against him, including making false statements, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional probe.
Roger Stone prosecutors resign in fight over prison sentenceFeb. 12, 202003:16
Attorney General William Barr is expected to testify about the Stone case and other issues before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31, the panel's chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in the Senate: "Something egregious like this demands that the inspector general investigate and demands that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing now."
Schumer sent a letter to the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, on Tuesday, writing that the development amounts to "improper political interference in a criminal prosecution."
"I therefore request that you immediately investigate this matter to determine how and why the Stone sentencing recommendations were countermanded, which Justice Department officials made this decision, and which White House officials were involved," Schumer said.
Late Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reacted to the news, tweeting, "By tweet @realDonaldTrump engaged in political interference in the sentencing of Roger Stone. It is outrageous that DOJ has deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing its recommendation."
Earlier in the day, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a former state attorney general and a former federal prosecutor, sent a letter asking Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to immediately schedule a hearing for Barr to testify "so that the committee and the American people can understand the Justice Department's decision to overrule its career prosecutors in this case."
Graham, however, gave no indications Wednesday that he planned to hold a hearing. He told reporters that he was briefed on the sentencing guidelines and that they are 3½ to 4½ years, unless there's "a threat against a witness."
Graham said that Trump's tweets were unrelated to the proposed change and that he has "real concerns about overzealous prosecution more than anything else." Graham also said that Trump shouldn't be commenting on cases in the system and that if he had thought Trump had done something that changed the outcome inappropriately, "I'd be the first to say."
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The Justice Department, which announced Tuesday that it was revising the original recommended sentence of seven to nine years in prison, is asking Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reduce the sentence after Trump himself called the proposal "a miscarriage of justice." In response, all four federal prosecutors who made the original sentencing recommendation withdrew from the case Tuesday.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., another former federal prosecutor, said Wednesday that "Attorney General William Barr should be ashamed and embarrassed and resign as a result of this action directly interfering in the independent prosecution of Roger Stone, simply the latest examples of political interference by the president to alter the independent decisions of the Department of Justice."
In the House, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters Wednesday that this is "an egregious violation of the rule of law." Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional law expert, said the four prosecutors are "sending a message to America that the rule of law is under attack."
As for Republican reaction, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he had nothing to say on the matter when pressed by reporters at a weekly news conference.