Mueller deputy who quit Stone case to testify before House panel


The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas Tuesday to Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky and John Elias, a Justice Department official in the Antitrust Division, who will both testify on June 24 alongside a former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, described Zelinsky and Elias as whistleblowers and said they would “speak to the lasting damage the President and the Attorney General have inflicted on the Department of Justice.”

Zelinsky took Stone’s case to trial, and was one of the four prosecutors to quit the case when Barr softened the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Stone, a friend and adviser to President Donald Trump. He has the potential to be one of the most potent witnesses about Barr’s recent decision-making from the Mueller investigation, given his laser focus on Stone, one of the team’s signature prosecutions, his experience with the Justice Department leadership’s influence in the case and his decision to stay within the Justice Department afterward, which few Mueller prosecutors have done.

Zelinsky plans to comply with the subpoena to the full extent that’s appropriate, his attorney Robert Litt said on Tuesday.

The prospect of two current Justice Department officials testifying against the attorney general is a sign of just how politicized Barr’s decision-making has become within the ranks of career officials.

Democrats charge that Barr has made overtly political decisions targeting the Mueller team, beginning with the rollout of Mueller’s findings last year. In addition to the Stone sentencing recommendation, Democrats have called for investigations into DOJ’s decision to drop the charges against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. That case is still pending, and a court-appointed former judge accused the Justice Department of a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” in dropping a case to which Flynn had pleaded guilty.
Democrats are now calling for new investigations into the Justice Department’s role in the forceful clearing of protestors from Lafayette Square ahead of Trump’s photo-op outside St. John’s Church.
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It’s not yet clear if the Justice Department will try to restrict any part of the officials’ testimony next week.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment on the subpoenas.

Zelinsky’s testimony comes amid a sustained attack on the special counsel’s team from Trump’s allies inside and outside the Trump administration. Two Senate Republican chairmen are investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation that became the Mueller probe, and have been granted wide-ranging subpoena authority. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein faced pointed questions from Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans about his decision to appoint Mueller in testimony earlier this month, and the panel’s chairman, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, has said he also expects a representative of the Mueller team to testify.

The Justice Department is also scrutinizing the origins of the FBI’s investigation into members of Trump’s team and the abuses surrounding foreign surveillance warrants obtained on a former Trump adviser, with an investigation led by US Attorney John Durham.

A House GOP aide said Republicans were likely to call a witness for next week’s hearing, too, which they can do under committee rules.

Nadler has accused Barr of refusing to testify before his committee, after an earlier scheduled appearance in March was scrapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Again and again, Attorney General Barr has demonstrated that he will cater to President Trump’s private political interests, at the expense of the American people and the rule of law,” Nadler said in a statement Tuesday.

Nadler said that Elias, who is the acting chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, would speak to “improperly motivated activity” in the division. Democrats have raised questions about the DOJ’s decision to investigation California’s emissions agreement, writing last year that it was “another example of the administration’s weaponization of the antitrust laws for political purposes.”
Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general under Bush, is also testifying at the hearing without a subpoena, the committee said. Ayer has been a vocal critic of Barr, who was first attorney general under Bush, writing in a February op-ed that Barr should resign.
Flynn and Stone likely to face drawn-out court battles as challenges set to stretch into summer

Zelinsky, a federal prosecutor based in Baltimore, focused his efforts in the Mueller investigation on prosecuting Stone. He was the Mueller team member who flew to Florida the day Stone was arrested there, and stayed with the case in a special assignment in Washington even after Mueller’s office closed. He since returned to the Maryland US Attorney’s Office, taking on fraud and public corruption investigations, including related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zelinsky could decline to speak about some internal deliberations, though many salacious details from the Stone case and the prosecutors’ handling of his sentencing are already public.

Details about the Stone case had been redacted in the Mueller report when it was released before his trial, but the Justice Department has said they’ll lift many of those redactions this Friday, essentially re-releasing the report. A federal judge also questioned a prosecutor in court about what had happened with Stone’s sentencing memo and the departures of Zelinsky and others. The prosecutor, John Crabb Jr., who stepped into the case following the departures, told the judge Zelinsky’s team had worked in good faith on Stone’s original sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years in prison and had followed department policy. Crabb couldn’t explain more, however, about the “miscommunication,” as he called it, between the team Zelinsky worked on and the attorney general’s interest in a lighter sentence for Stone.

Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering as he sought to hide his efforts for the Trump campaign in 2016 to seek damaging Democratic emails stolen by the Russians.
He is set to turn himself in on June 30.

Stone is still challenging the jury’s conviction in a longshot appeal, openly advocating for a presidential pardon and Trump tweeted last week Stone “can sleep well at night!”

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.


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