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Prosecutors accuse Barr, Justice Department of politicizing investigations

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 18: U.S. Attorney General William Barr waits to speak at an announcement a new Crime Reduction Initiative designed to reduce crime in Detroit on December 18, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Two prosecutors in the Justice Department will ratchet up the criticism of Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday with remarkable congressional testimony accusing senior Justice Department officials of politicizing DOJ investigations and the sentencing of a friend of President Donald Trump.

Aaron Zelinsky, a prosecutor on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, plans to testify that the sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone was watered down due to political pressure from the “highest levels” of the Justice Department, according to Zelinsky’s prepared remarked released Tuesday. Zelinsky, who now works in the Maryland US Attorney’s Office, said the pressure came due to Stone’s “relationship with the President.”

John Elias, a career Justice Department prosecutor in the Antitrust Division, accused Barr of ordering investigations into 10 mergers of cannabis companies because he did not like the industry, according to a copy of his testimony. Elias also charged that political leadership in the Antitrust Division pushed an investigation into California’s emissions standards last year following a tweet from the President attacking the state.

Wednesday’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee comes amid a new flurry of questions surrounding Barr’s decision to fire Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which has investigated Trump and his associates. Berman initially refused Barr’s request for his resignation, vowing to remain until the Senate confirmed his replacement sparking a chaotic situation that ended after Trump and Barr fired him and Berman agreed to leave.

Wednesday’s testimony from Zelinsky and Elias before the House Judiciary Committee represents a remarkable public admonishment of Barr, who critics say has taken multiple actions to protect Trump and try to re-write the history of the Mueller investigation, from distorting Mueller’s findings to dropping charges secured by Mueller’s team against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Zelinsky is likely to face questions about many facets of the Mueller investigation, particularly from Republicans who have accused the FBI of opening the Russia investigation in 2016 to target Trump.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, is planning to issue a subpoena for Barr’s testimony next month, though the attorney general has yet to testify before the committee and did not attend a hearing on the Mueller report last year.

Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that Barr should be impeached for his actions, but he argued that pursuing impeachment wasn’t practical.

“I think he deserves impeachment. He certainly deserves impeachment,” Nadler said. “But again, that’s a waste of time, because the Republicans in the Senate won’t look at that, and we have other ways of getting at this.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Tuesday that Zelinsky did not discuss the matter with Barr, and that Zelinsky’s allegations were based on hearsay, not first-hand knowledge.

“The Attorney General determined the high sentence proposed by the line prosecutors in the Roger Stone case was excessive and inconsistent with similar cases,” Kupec said. “As he has previously stated, the Attorney General did not discuss the sentencing of Roger Stone with the President or anyone else at the White House and had made the decision to correct the filing before the President tweeted about the case.”

In addition to Zelinsky and Elias, two former senior DOJ officials will testify on Wednesday. One, George H.W. Bush administration Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, has called for Barr’s resignation. The other, former George W. Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, defended Barr over Stone’s sentencing.

Zelinsky and Elias were subpoenaed to appear Wednesday, which is the same way current Trump administration officials testified during the House’s impeachment inquiry. Zelinsky is testifying virtually, while the other witnesses will appear in person.

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