Roger Stone, a friend and confidant of President Donald Trump, is set to appear before a federal judge Thursday to be sentenced for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice stemming from the 2016 Russian election meddling probe.
Prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years in prison. But Attorney General William Barr and other top Justice Department officials overruled their own prosecutors and recommended a lighter prison sentence.
Three of the prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest and a fourth quit the Justice Department outright.
But it is up to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to decide how long Stone will be locked up.
Berman has refused to delay Stone's sentencing but has said she could put off an order for Stone to begin his sentence while Stone's lawyers pursue a request for a new trial.
Complaint about juror
That request came after Trump tweeted his belief last week that the foreperson on the Stone jury was "unambiguously" biased — an opinion he retweeted Tuesday after a commentator on Fox News also said Stone deserved a new trial.
"Madam foreperson, your (sic) a lawyer, you have a duty, an affirmative obligation to reveal to us when we selected you the existence of these tweets in which you were so harshly negative about the president and the people who support him," Trump said in his own tweet.
"Pretty obvious he should get a new trial. I think almost any judge in the country would order a new trial. I'm not so sure about Judge Jackson, though," he added.
Trump's public comments about the Stone case and his open criticism of a federal judge are at the center of allegations of political influence into what has historically been an independent Justice Department.
Barr and the department recommended a lighter sentence after Trump complained in a tweet that a sentence in the range of seven to nine years would be "horrible" and "unfair."
A national association of federal judges was to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday, but it was canceled and there was no information available on rescheduling.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, president of the Federal Judges Association, said the judges were "concerned about the attacks on individual judges."
Rufe declined to give more details but said the jurists "could not wait" until their spring meeting to discuss the matter. She said the Federal Judges Association had no interest in getting involved in the Stone case but did support Jackson.
"We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required," she said.
Former President Barack Obama appointed Jackson, and Trump has been notoriously critical of nearly every major decision and policy his predecessor made. Trump also complained last week about Jackson's decision to place former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in solitary confinement.
Trump congratulated Barr last week for "taking charge" of the Stone case. Both denied that Trump asked him to intervene. Barr is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee next month.
Calls for Barr to resign
More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have called on Barr to resign, saying his handling of the Stone case "openly and repeatedly flouted" the independence of the judicial branch.
Barr told ABC News last week that Trump's tweets made it “impossible” for him to do his job, saying he would not be "bullied or influenced by anybody, whether it's Congress, a newspaper editorial board or the president."
Trump acknowledged that he had made Barr's job "harder” but called him a man of "great integrity" who was up against people who "don’t want to see good things happen.”
Mary Motta and Masood Farivar contributed to this report.