WASHINGTON – Top Justice Department officials came under fire Wednesday for jettisoning a recommendation by career prosecutors that Roger Stone, a longtime confidante of President Donald Trump, receive a stiff prison sentence.

Democrats called for investigations into the reversal, which led four career prosecutors Tuesday to dramatically withdraw from the case. Former federal prosecutors said the department appeared to have either botched its oversight of the prosecution or abandoned decades of independence to help a friend of Trump’s.

Either way, they said, the Justice Department suffered a serious blow to its reputation in withdrawing recommendations that Stone, a longtime Republican operative and self-proclaimed dirty trickster, be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison for obstructing a House investigation, witness tampering and lying to Congress.

“It’s a disaster,” said Mary McCord, who spent two decades as a federal prosecutor and was acting assistant attorney general for national security in 2016 and 2017. “The department has no credibility left.”

Stone is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20.

Democrats will get their chance to question Attorney General William Barr next month. The House Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that Barr, after a monthslong standoff with the panel, had agreed to testify March 31.

Trump praised Barr and the Justice Department on Wednesday for dialing back the sentencing recommendation for Stone.

“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control,” Trump tweeted.

The trouble started Tuesday when Trump expressed his displeasure with the sentencing recommendation that career prosecutors made Monday in court filings. They had argued that guidelines suggesting Stone receive a sentence of only 15 to 21 months in prison were too lenient given that he was convicted at trial of seven felony counts.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, they argued, should take into account that Stone threatened the life of a witness and obstructed justice, boosting his guideline range to seven to nine years.

If the judge agrees, the 67-year-old Stone will receive the harshest sentence of the half-dozen Trump associates convicted of crimes that include tax fraud and lying to investigators.

After Trump tweeted that the recommended sentence was a “miscarriage of justice,” the Justice Department ordered prosecutors to abandon their position on sentencing.

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