Still reeling from a highly public clash that led to the firing of one of its most prominent prosecutors, the Justice Department again finds itself under a glaring spotlight as two of its employees told Congress that the agency’s leadership abused its power at the behest of President Donald Trump.
Aaron Zelinsky, one of the attorneys who prosecuted Roger Stone, said that the Justice Department gave the GOP operative “unprecedentedly favorable treatment” and pressured prosecutors to “cut Stone a break” by recommending a lenient sentence because he is an ally of the president, according to his prepared statement. He and the other prosecutors “were instructed” to go along, Zelinsky said, because the case was “not a hill worth dying on.”
John Elias, an attorney in the department’s Antitrust Division, said that the agency’s political appointees pursued unwarranted investigations over the objections of career employees. One investigation, Elias said, was launched after a Trump tweet.
The pair offered blistering criticisms on Wednesday of Justice Department leadership before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating allegations of political interference within the agency.
Such potentially damaging testimony – delivered in a public spectacle – is unusual as career Justice Department attorneys typically don’t go before Congress, let alone publicly rebuke their own superiors. A 2000 Justice Department letter said the agency believed its career prosecutors should not be required to testify before Congress because doing so could compromise their independence.