Press Releases

House Judiciary Releases Key Takeaways from Witness Testimony on Politicization of DOJ Under AG Barr

Washington, June 24, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released key takeaways from the testimony of Aaron S.J. Zelinsky and John W. Elias, who are testifying before the Committee on the unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice under President Trump and Attorney General William Barr.

Key takeaways from Mr. Zelinsky' testimony:

Political interference in the Roger Stone case was unethical and unprecedented.

“The first thing every AUSA learns is that we have an ethical and legal obligation to treat every defendant equally and fairly. No one is entitled to more or less because of who they are, who they know, or what they believe. In the United States of America, we do not prosecute people because of their politics.” (p.1)

“In the many cases I have been privileged to work on in my career, I have never seen political influence play any role in prosecutorial decision making. With one exception: United States v. Roger Stone.” (p.1)

Barr’s DOJ treated Stone differently because he is friends with President Trump. They put significant pressure on prosecutors to ensure that special treatment.

“What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President. I was told that the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, 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. I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was “afraid of the President.” (p.2)

“Together with my fellow line Assistant United States Attorneys, I immediately and repeatedly raised concerns, in writing and orally, that such political favoritism was wrong and contrary to legal ethics and Department policy. Our objections were not heeded.” (p.2)

“[W]e were told by a supervisor that the U.S. Attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed was unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. Attorney’s instructions, because this case was “not the hill worth dying on” and that we could “lose our jobs” if we did not toe the line.” (p.9-10)

The evidence shows that Stone engaged in extensive criminal conduct.

“Stone claimed to Congress he didn’t have anything in writing that related to Julian Assange – no emails, texts, documents, or anything at all. In fact, he had hundreds of such communications.” (p.5)

“Stone further testified that he had nothing in writing with his intermediary, and that his intermediary was ‘not an email guy,’ when Stone actually had hundreds of messages with both Corsi and Credico.” (p.6)

“Stone repeatedly lied to the Committee about his contacts with the Trump campaign.” (p.6)

“Following his congressional testimony, Stone embarked on an extended month-long campaign of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice targeted at Randy Credico.” (p.6)

The political leadership of the Department pressured career prosecutors to ignore the rules go easy on Stone when recommending his sentence. The prosecutors refused.

“The prosecution team . . . prepared a draft sentencing memorandum reflecting this calculation and recommending a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range. We sent our draft for review to the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We received word back from one of the supervisors on February 5, 2020, that the sentencing memo was strong, and that Stone ‘deserve[d] every day’ of our recommendation. (p.9)

“[T]wo days later, I learned that our team was being pressured by the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to seek all of the Guidelines enhancements that applied to Stone – that is, to provide an inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range.” (p.9)

“[W]e refused to modify our memorandum to ask for a substantially lower sentence. Again, I was told that the U.S. Attorney’s instructions had nothing to do with Mr. Stone, the facts of the case, the law, or Department policy.” (p.10)

After President Trump tweeted his anger about the sentencing recommendation, the political leadership of the Department moved in to overrule the prosecutors.

“The next morning, media reports began to circulate quoting a ‘senior Department of Justice official’ stating that the Department would file a new sentencing memorandum overriding our old one. This was highly unusual, as the Department generally does not comment on pending filings in criminal cases. The first we heard of any new memorandum was from public media reports. When we asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office about these media reports, we were initially told they were false. But later that day, we were told that a new memorandum would be filed, countermanding our earlier recommendation and asking for a substantially lower sentence for Mr. Stone.” (p.11)

“That evening, the Department filed a new memorandum seeking a substantially lower sentence for Stone. No line AUSA signed the filing—which is also something that is virtually unprecedented.” (p.11)

“To be clear, my concern is not with this sentencing outcome – and I am not here to criticize the sentence Judge Jackson imposed in the case or the reasoning that she used. It is about process and the fact that the Department of Justice treated Roger Stone differently and more leniently in ways that are virtually, if not entirely, unprecedented.” (p.13)

Key takeaways from Mr. Elias' testimony:

Attorney General Barr has used the Antitrust Division as an excuse to target industries he and President Trump dislike.

“Based on what I have seen, and what my colleagues saw and described to me, I was concerned enough to report certain antitrust investigations launched under Attorney General Barr to the Department of Justice Inspector General. I asked him to investigate whether these matters constituted an abuse of authority, a gross waste of funds, and gross mismanagement.” (p.1)

Attorney General Barr launched a series of pretextual antitrust investigations designed to harass the cannabis industry.

“Since March 2019, the Antitrust Division has conducted ten investigations of mergers in the cannabis industry. While these were nominally antitrust investigations, and used antitrust investigative authorities, they were not bona fide antitrust investigations.” (p.2)

“Rejecting the analysis of career staff, Attorney General Barr ordered the Antitrust Division to issue Second Request subpoenas. The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the nature of their underlying business.” (p.3)

“At one point, cannabis investigations accounted for five of the eight active merger investigations in the office that is responsible for the transportation, energy, and agriculture sectors of the American economy. The investigations were so numerous that staff from other offices were pulled in to assist, including from the telecommunications, technology, and media offices.” (p.6)

“The head of the Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Delrahim, responded to internal concerns about these investigations at an all-staff meeting on September 17, 2019. There, he acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building.” (p.6)

“Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.” (p.6)

Bowing to pressure from President Trump, the Attorney General launched a hasty enforcement action against the State of California and four major automakers. The investigation had no real basis in antitrust law.

“The day after the [President’s] tweets, Antitrust Division political leadership instructed staff to initiate an investigation that day. Accordingly, the investigation opening memorandum is dated August 22, and the August 22 opening date is reflected in internal tracking records.” (p.7)

“The investigation’s initiating paperwork, like the cannabis opening memorandums, does not include a staff “recommendation” but instead states that “[t]he Antitrust Division would like to open an investigation.” It was generated by the Division’s policy staff, which does not conduct enforcement investigations of this type.” (p.7)

“California’s annual purchase of fewer than 2,700 vehicles in a state of nearly 40 million people did not confer it with the market power that could lead to antitrust liability. Accordingly, in February of this year, the Division notified the automakers that its investigation was closed.” (p.8)

Full testimony of Mr. Zelinsky is available here.

Full testimony of Mr. Elias is available here.