President Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly withdrew the nomination for Jessie Liu, the former US attorney who headed the office that oversaw Roger Stone’s prosecution, to serve in a top Treasury Department position, three sources told CNN.
Liu’s nomination was pulled the same day that the four federal prosecutors who had successfully taken Stone’s case to trial withdrew their involvement after top Justice Department officials intervened by reducing the government’s recommended sentence against Stone.
Liu was nominated in December to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. Previously she headed the US attorney’s office that oversaw the prosecution and conviction of Trump’s longtime political adviser until Attorney General William Barr replaced her last month. She also led the team that worked on the sentencing of former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates.
Her office inherited many of the major ongoing cases from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and was also handling the politically charged case of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe — a frequent target of Trump’s ire. (McCabe is a CNN contributor.) That office is now run by Tim Shea, a close adviser to Barr.
One source Tuesday did not dismiss the idea that the nomination withdrawal was connected to developments in Stone’s case. Liu’s confirmation hearing had been slated for Thursday in front of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
She was informed Tuesday that the White House had withdrawn the nomination, according to two sources.
The revoked nomination paired with the mass withdrawal of the career prosecutors Tuesday punctuated a stunning cascade of developments set into motion on Monday. Prosecutors from the DC US Attorney’s Office, who are Justice Department employees, wrote Monday in a filing that a judge should issue Stone a seven-to-nine-year sentence after he was convicted on seven charges last year that came out of Mueller’s investigation, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Trump weighed in on Twitter overnight on Tuesday, calling it a “horrible and very unfair situation.”
“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Trump said. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he didn’t ask the Justice Department to change the sentencing recommendation.
By midday Tuesday, a senior Justice Department official said that the original sentencing recommendation from the prosecutors, transmitted to a judge and signed off on by the office’s top prosecutor, had not been communicated to leadership at the Justice Department.
“The Department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation,” the official told CNN. “The Department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
In the revised sentencing recommendation, filed Tuesday afternoon, federal prosecutors asked for Stone to still be sentenced to prison but said it should be “far less” than the office had asked for a day earlier. The prosecutors declined to say how much time in prison Stone should serve.
The rapid-fire developments in the case raised questions about the Justice Department’s independence from political pressure and prompted congressional Democrats to call for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate.
Ultimately, the presiding judge in the case will have the final say on Stone’s sentence.
Channing Phillips, Liu’s predecessor as US attorney in DC, said called Tuesday’s developments “deeply troubling.”
“Without knowing all of the details, the mere fact that all four of the line prosecutors withdrew from the case, as has been reported, suggests undue meddling by higher ups at DOJ or elsewhere,” Philips said in a statement.
“While it is not uncommon for a USAO to consult with Main Justice in such high profile matters (indeed, it is required for certain matters), it is unprecedented to have a USAO dramatically change their sentencing recommendation after its memorandum has been filed unless there has been a change in circumstances or facts,” he continued. “One simply cannot reconcile the two sentencing memoranda filed by the USAO.”