WASHINGTON — Two Justice Department officials have agreed to testify under subpoena before the House Judiciary Committee next week about politicization under Attorney General William P. Barr, setting up a likely fight with the department about what they will be permitted to say.
House Democrats issued subpoenas on Tuesday to the two officials, including Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, one of the career prosecutors who quit a case against President Trump’s friend Roger J. Stone Jr. after Mr. Barr and other senior officials intervened to reverse their recommendation that Mr. Stone be sentenced in accord with standard guidelines and instead requested leniency.
The other official who agreed to serve as a witness is John W. Elias, a career official in the Justice Department’s antitrust division. The division opened an inquiry into a fuel efficiency deal between major automakers and the state of California; congressional Democrats have called the scrutiny politically motivated.
Democrats are calling the officials “whistle-blowers.” The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, said in a statement that Mr. Barr has refused to testify himself, so the committee was moving forward with oversight of his actions without him.
“The attorney general — who cites his busy schedule as a basis for refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee but has made time for multiple television interviews — may have abdicated his responsibility to Congress, but the brave men and women of our civil service have not,” Mr. Nadler said. “The committee welcomes the testimony of current and former department officials who will speak to the lasting damage the president and the attorney general have inflicted on the Department of Justice.”
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, had no immediate comment.
The ability of lower-level officials to testify about internal executive branch matters without permission can be subject to dispute. The executive branch sometimes claims that such matters are privileged. Still, its has limited ability to block officials who have been subpoenaed by Congress and who want to comply with those legal demands to testify.
A third expected witness at the June 24 hearing is Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general in the first George Bush administration when Mr. Barr led the department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1989 and 1990, before succeeding Mr. Ayer as deputy attorney general and then ascending to his first stint as attorney general. Mr. Ayer has been a frequent critic of Mr. Barr.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee can invite a witness of their own but have not yet selected one, according to a committee aide.
Mr. Zelinsky, an assistant United States attorney in Maryland, had been a member of the office of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to lead the investigation into whether Trump campaign officials coordinated activities with the Russian government in its 2016 election interference operation, and continued to handle the case against Mr. Stone, which spun off that inquiry, after it ended.
In February, when Mr. Stone was due to be sentenced for crimes related to trying to sabotage a separate congressional inquiry into the Russian matter in order to protect Mr. Trump, Mr. Zelinsky was one of four career prosecutors who abruptly withdrew from the case shortly before the Justice Department revised its recommendation for Mr. Stone’s sentence.
The department had just suggested a sentence seven to nine years, in line with standard guidelines. But Mr. Trump then attacked the recommendation on Twitter as unfair, and department political appointees, overruling career prosecutors, submitted a revised recommendation seeking greater leniency.
A Federal District Court judge ultimately sentenced Mr. Stone to slightly more than three years in prison. But the sequence set off an uproar over whether Mr. Barr was giving special treatment to a presidential ally, and led Mr. Barr to say in an interview that he wanted Mr. Trump to stop commenting on cases in public.
Robert S. Litt, a former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who is representing Mr. Zelinsky, said his client “has received a subpoena and he will comply with the subpoena to the extent appropriate.”
He declined to say what Mr. Zelinsky will discuss. A Democratic aide said Mr. Zelinsky will testify about what happened in the sentencing of Mr. Stone and Mr. Elias will testify about purportedly improperly motivated activity by the Antitrust Division. The staffer provided no further details about Mr. Elias’s expected disclosures.
But Mr. Elias’s service in the Antitrust Division coincides with an inquiry into a deal struck by four major automakers with the state of California. Under the deal, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW would voluntarily continue to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions on new cars, despite the Trump administration’s rollback of federal standards.
Mr. Trump had attacked the deal on Twitter, and Congressional Democrats accused the Justice Department of starting the antitrust inquiry for political reasons. The Justice Department dropped the inquiry earlier this year, but not before the prospect of legal scrutiny scared off Mercedes-Benz, which had reportedly been close to joining the deal with California.