President Trump praised Attorney General William Barr for "taking charge" of the case against Roger Stone, his longtime adviser, after the highly unusual exodus of all four members of the prosecution team ahead of Stone's sentencing.

"Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought," Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!"

The four government lawyers who oversaw Stone's prosecution and won guilty verdicts on all counts at trial in November abruptly withdrew from the case on Tuesday after the Justice Department overruled their sentencing recommendation. Two of the attorneys had been members of former special counsel Robert Mueller's team during the Russia investigation.

The prosecutors told the judge in U.S. District Court in Washington that Stone should serve between 7 and 9 years in prison in a filing Monday evening. On Tuesday morning, a top Justice Department official said the department was "shocked" by the severity of the recommendation, which the official called "extreme and excessive." A federal judge will ultimately decide Stone's fate at a sentencing hearing on February 20.

In quick succession Tuesday afternoon, the prosecutors told the court they were withdrawing from the case, with one lawyer resigning from the Justice Department outright. The government soon filed a revised sentencing memo, arguing Stone deserves prison time but that the original recommendation "could be considered excessive and unwarranted."

The move came just hours after the president called the sentence recommendation a "miscarriage of justice" in a tweet, raising questions about possible political interference in the prosecution. A Justice Department spokeswoman said there had been no communication between the White House and the department about Stone's recommended sentence, and said the decision to seek a shorter sentence was made before the president's tweet. A senior Justice Department official said the timing of the tweet was an "inconvenient coincidence."

Mr. Trump also said Tuesday afternoon that he had not spoken to Barr about the recommendation, but said he would have been well within his rights to do so. 

Democrats immediately accused Mr. Trump and Barr of improperly intervening in the case to recommend a lighter sentence for one of the president's longtime allies, who was convicted of lying to investigators, witness tampering and obstruction during the Mueller investigation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded the Justice Department's inspector general open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Stone's sentencing.

"The American people must have confidence that justice in this country is dispensed impartially," Schumer wrote in a letter to Michael Horowitz, the inspector general. "That confidence cannot be sustained if the president or his political appointees are permitted to interfere in prosecution and sentencing recommendations in order to protect their friends and associates."

Clare Hymes contributed reporting.

First published on February 12, 2020 / 10:40 AM

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