DOJ Internal Watchdog Opens Investigation Into Roger Stone Sentencing

( The case of Roger Stone just never seems to end.

While Stone’s fight in court is over, an internal watchdog at the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the intervention by Attorney General William Barr in the sentencing recommendation.

The move in question is Barr’s involvement in February where he apparently asked prosecutors to seek a lighter sentence for Stone. Prosecutors and an acting U.S. attorney had already submitted a seven- to nine-year prison term recommendation, but Barr asked them to lower it.

All four of the prosecutors on the case resigned from the case following that incident, with one resigning from the department altogether.  Stone was a long-time adviser to President Donald Trump, and many have questioned whether Barr was pressured to lighten the sentencing recommendation.

A jury convicted Stone on seven felony counts.

Barr has said that he intervened in the sentencing recommendation only to make sure that it was a reasonable recommendation based on the facts in the case. The originally recommendation of seven to nine years was “obviously excessive,” he said. A judge ultimately handed down a sentence of three years and four months, which seemed to vindicate Barr’s statement.

Still, many have questioned Trump’s influence in the case. He tweeted heavy criticism of prosecutors’ original sentencing recommendation, and then Barr intervened. Barr said the recommendation was changed after Trump’s tweet, but he had told colleagues to revise it before Trump made his thoughts public.

Stone was serving his sentence in home confinement for only a few days before he was set to report to federal prison. But Trump commuted the remainder of Stone’s sentence, and he never served a day in prison.

In June, Aaron Zelinsky, one of the prosecutors on the case, testified before Congress that a higher-up told him to change the recommendation because of Trump’s relationship to Stone.

Timothy Shea, who was U.S. attorney at the time, was “receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations,” Zelinsky said.

The comments Zelinsky made during his testimony is what triggered the office of the inspector general to open an investigation into the matter, a source told NBC News. There is no indication as of yet as to how far the investigation has developed at this point, including who they’ve interviewed or whether they’ve found any evidence of wrongdoing.

For his part, Barr defended his actions when he gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee back in late July. One of the reasons Barr gave for high lighter sentencing recommendation was that Stone, at age 67, didn’t deserve to receive such a long sentence for a crime that was nonviolent.

As he said in his testimony:

“I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people.”