WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump denied meddling in his former associate Roger Stone’s criminal prosecution, saying that tweets he issued about the case don’t amount to political interference.
Four federal prosecutors resigned from the Stone case on Tuesday after the Justice Department reversed a recommendation for a seven-to-nine-year prison sentence for Stone. He was convicted of lying to Congress and other charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump remarked to reporters in a meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno that the prosecutors “all hit the road pretty quickly” after the Justice Department signaled it would cut their recommended sentence.
“It was a disgrace to our country,” he said of the initial sentencing recommendation. “Frankly, they ought to apologize to him.
“They ought to go back to school and learn,” he said later of the prosecutors.
Trump didn’t answer directly when asked whether he is considering a pardon for Stone.
“I don’t want to say that yet but I tell you what, people were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people,” he said. Trump said again that he “didn’t speak” to the Justice Department before it countermanded the prosecutors.
“They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence,” he said. “You have murderers and drug addicts that don’t get nine years.”
The Justice Department reversed the recommendation Tuesday after Trump complained about the prosecution in a tweet. The president complimented Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Stone’s motion for a new trial was denied by the judge in his case in a ruling unsealed on Wednesday. Barr will testify to the House Judiciary Committee on March 31, the panel’s chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a letter to the attorney general. A Justice Department official confirmed Barr plans to appear.
Separately, the White House confirmed that it had withdrawn the nomination of Jessie Liu, a former federal prosecutor, to be the top sanctions official at the Treasury Department. As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Liu had overseen the Stone prosecution.
The White House has not said why her nomination was withdrawn. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to explain the move at a Senate hearing on Wednesday but told reporters that Trump was not retaliating against her for the Stone case.
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