The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating after a hard-nosed prosecutor who worked on Robert Mueller‘s special counsel team complained about political interference in Roger Stone‘s sentencing—despite having a history of partisan overreach himself.
Stone was the last person to be indicted by Mueller’s office, something of a parting shot for the two-year probe that ultimately found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Nonetheless, Mueller sought repeatedly to nail Trump associates on process crimes that were essentially the result of alleged missteps during the investigation itself, even without an underlying crime to support them.
Zelinsky played a large role in recommending a sentence of seven to nine years for the 67-year-old Stone when he was convicted of lying to Congress and witness intimidation.
However, Barr pressured the prosecutors—who were following a policy by the previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to pursue the maximum sentence—to reduce it to a more reasonable recommendation of three to four years.
President Donald Trump ultimately used his constitutional powers to commute Stone’s sentence altogether.
But Zelinsky’s allegations of political interference seem a tall order given his clearly overzealous pursuit of Trump advisers in the past.
Mifsud claimed to be able to act as a liaison between the Trump campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he allegedly revealed to Papadopoulos that Russia was in possession of hacked emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Papadopoulos agreed to fully cooperate with the FBI’s efforts to interview Mifsud, even alerting them to a possible date when Mifsud would be traveling to the US, but he declined to wear a wire to assist the investigators.
Papadopoulos later said in his book Deep State Target that he believed the FBI was working with Mifsud and other European intelligence sources, and that the idea of interviewing him was entirely incidental to its “Crossfire Hurricane” sting operation.
Nonetheless, Zelinsky falsely claimed in his sentencing guidelines that “Papadopoulos hindered federal prosecutors’ ability to question or arrest” Mifsud and that his “false statements were intended to harm the investigation.”
Papadopoulos went on to serve nearly two weeks in prison as part of a plea deal for the alleged crime of lying to the FBI, based on little more than Zelinsky’s claim.
Papadopoulos wrote that the entire purpose was for Mueller’s prosecutors to “show the world they’ve got muscle” and send an example to other potential witnesses whom they hoped to turn against Trump.
“They want to send a message,” Papadopoulos wrote. “If anyone connected to Trump f**ks with them—no matter how innocent they may be—they are going to jail.”
But a memo declassified by the FBI in February confirmed that it was Zelinsky who had, in fact lied to the court.
“The whole idea seemed nonsensical from the beginning that in the sentencing memorandum they would say that he stalled their investigation into Joseph Mifsud,” Nunes said.
“Now, we know from [these notes] that actually the opposite is true,” he continued. “The truth is that Papadopoulos offered, told the FBI, that Mifsud was going to be in the United States. …Now, the sad part is that Papadopoulos served his [time] in jail.”
Zelinsky is not the only one of Papadopoulos’s interrogators to have had his motives subsequently called into question.
A prior IG report from Horowitz painted a damning picture of FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who led the FBI’s second Papadopoulos’s interrogation.
Clinesmith was later revealed to have altered evidence in order to bolster the case for a FISA domestic surveillance warrant.
He, himself, was indicted in August as part of the investigation by US Attorney John Durham into the circumstances surrounding the anti-Trump probe.
Clinesmith also was one of several FBI operatives to be fired by Mueller after he was exposed for his overtly biased social-media messages, including one that said “Vive le Resistance!”
More recently, members of the Mueller team including Andrew Weissmann came under fire after they were revealed to have wiped their phones prior to Horowitz’s audit.
The IG report ultimately claimed there was no evidence that bias interfered with the investigators’ work.
It is unclear whether Zelinsky’s past actions during the Mueller investigation may come into play as part of Horowitz’s latest probe into the Stone sentencing.
However, the inspector general is said to have cooperated closely with Durham, whose probe—including a potential criminal investigation of the special counsel’s team—is in its final stages with a preliminary report expected before the November election.