Zelinsky also named Alessio Evangelista, then the first assistant U.S. attorney for Washington D.C., as a participant in those discussions.
Those names, which Zelinsky revealed under questioning from the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Rep. JIm Jordan (R-Ohio), provide avenues for potential further inquiry as the panel considers allegations that Attorney General Barr or his senior leadership weighed in on matters to protect the president or his allies.
Zelinsky’s testimony followed an explosive written statement in which he described intense pressure for the four Stone prosecutors to deviate from DOJ practice and recommend a lighter sentence for Stone. He said he was warned his job could be in jeopardy if he didn’t bend, and the four prosecutors withdrew from the case after they submitted a stiff sentence recommendation and were overruled by DOJ leaders.
Zelinsky, a member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, faced sharp attacks from committee Republicans, some of whom accused the Mueller team of political bias — a charge Zelinsky sharply rejected. Jordan dismissed Zelinsky’s allegations, noting that he never directly spoke to Barr or other top DOJ officials about the effort to revise Stone’s sentence and only heard about the political considerations through others in the department.
That argument echoed the defense put forth by the Justice Department, which has said Zelinsky’s claims amounted to “hearsay.”
The hearing, which also featured testimony from John Elias, an antitrust prosecutor, featured a return to sharp infighting among Republicans and Democrats after weeks of more muted exchanges amid consideration of police reform legislation and emotional testimony about police brutality.
As the hearing began, Barr himself agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next month, ending — for now — a threat by Chairman Jerry Nadler to issue a subpoena for his testimony.
“The Attorney General has accepted an invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a general oversight hearing on July 28th,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Twitter, a day after Nadler issued his subpoena threat.
Barr’s appearance, if it holds, would be his first before the Judiciary Committee since his confirmation early last year.
Three previous attempts to bring him in were aborted. The first, in spring 2019, was canceled after Barr refused to submit to questioning from committee staff, in the weeks after he released the report of special counsel Robert Mueller. The second occurred in March, when the coronavirus crisis led the House to call off most committee proceedings. The hearing was rescheduled for early June, but Barr again canceled after the White House objected, citing a prohibition on congressional testimony during the coronavirus emergency.
Committee aides said Barr’s agreement to appear came shortly after Nadler reversed himself and began the process for issuing a subpoena for Nadler’s testimony next week. Nadler had previously rejected the prospect of subpoenaing Barr, worrying that it would lead to months of litigation.