President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he did not ask the Justice Department to change its sentencing recommendation for former campaign associate Roger Stone – but that he had the “absolute right to” if he wanted.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump fumed against federal prosecutors who had recommended a seven- to nine-year sentence, which he deemed “ridiculous” and an “insult to our country.”
“I thought it was a disgraceful recommendation,” Trump said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Trump’s comments came after three federal prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case after a decision by top Justice Department officials to reduce the government’s recommended sentence for Stone, who was convicted on seven charges last year, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
The charges derived from the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller, which Trump has castigated as a “witch hunt” and “hoax.” He said Tuesday that the prosecutors who recommended the initial sentence “are the same Mueller people that put everybody through hell.”
Early Tuesday morning, Trump had tweeted that the sentence recommendation was a “horrible and very unfair situation.”
But he insisted hours later that he hadn’t addressed the matter directly with the Justice Department.
“I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe,” he said after signing legislation meant to bolster science and technology job training for veterans. “I did not speak to them.”
Still, Trump claimed he would be able to voice his displeasure to the Justice Department if he wanted, a break from long-standing efforts to guard prosecutions from political influence.
“I’d be able to do it if I wanted,” Trump said. “I have the absolute right to do it.”
He declined to say whether he was considering a pardon or commutation for Stone, but people familiar with the matter have said the President has considered such a step.
Several of Stone’s allies have lobbied Trump to use his presidential powers of clemency for his longtime political adviser, the people familiar said.
But multiple advisers have also warned the President that doing so would be a terrible idea politically and have cautioned against it.