2020-02-21 12:04:361 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
After a week of arguments, Trump ally and former adviser to his campaign, Roger Stone, was finally sentenced. He received more than the probation he was asking and less than the seven to nine years prosecutors initially suggested.
This sentencing caused quite a stir in the Justice Department. After prosecutors made their initial request, Donald trump balked. Shortly after, Attorney General William Barr shortened the sentence recommendation. This touched off a bipartisan request of 2000 former DOJ officials who believed Barr should step down and a special meeting of the Federal Judges Association to discuss the situation.
Stone worked for Trump's 2016 campaign early on and then officially left the campaign, but it is thought he was still advising him. When the DNC emails were hacked by the Russians that summer, Stone was somehow involved with them before they were eventually published at WikiLeaks. Last fall he was convicted in seven counts of lying to the FBI, obstruction, and witness tampering.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson's sentence of three years and four months may not be the final word on it, as Trump seemed to be suggesting on Twitter even before the sentencing was handed down that he may pardon Stone, but this is just more of the types of comments that Barr would like the president to stop tweeting.
Before imposing the sentence, Jackson's words seemed to be directed at Trump. She stated that Stone "was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president." She also seemed to reprimand Barr, noting that an intervention to reduce prosecutors' sentencing recommendation was "unprecedented." The judge noted that those politics did not influence her sentencing decision.
"The trust still exists; the truth still matters," Jackson said in words that reflect on prosecutors' closing arguments. "Roger Stone's insistence that it doesn't, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy. If it goes unpunished, it will not be a victory for one party or another; everyone loses."
"The dismay and disgust at the defendant's belligerence should transcend party," added Jackson.
Trump once against ignored Barr's request to stop tweeting about DOJ cases and posted to Twitter comparing Stone to former FBI director James B. Comey, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and former secretary of state and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, questioning why they were not charged.
"They say Roger Stone lied to Congress.' @CNN," Trump wrote. "OH, I see, but so did Comey (and he also leaked classified information for which almost everyone, other than Crooked Hillary Clinton, goes to jail for a long time), and so did Andy McCabe, who also lied to the FBI! FAIRNESS?"
Overnight Trump tweeted a video clip of Fox News host Tucker Carlson stating, "President Trump could end this travesty in an instant with a pardon, and there are indications tonight that he will do that," reflecting on the many pardons and clemencies that came from the president this week.
Stone did not speak in court and did not show emotion as the sentence was read. Once he exited the courtroom, he continued his silence. "I have nothing to say," he said, which is a rarity for him. "Thank you."
As he left the courthouse with his wife and climbed into a waiting SUV, there were shouts of "Lock him up!" by protestors and "Pardon Roger Stone!" by supporters.
Last Friday he had requested a new trial based on Trump's suggestion that the jury forewoman in his case had "significant bias." Jackson has promised to delay implementing her penalty until that situation is resolved. In addition to his prison term, she is also requiring him to pay a $20,000 fine and serve two years of supervised release.
"The Department of Justice and the United States Attorney's Office is committed to following the law without fear, favor, or political influence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb in the courtroom. "This prosecution was and this prosecution is righteous."
He suggested that the court "should impose a substantial period of incarceration," though he didn't set a specific request of time.
Jackson continued to be highly critical of Stone. She called his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee "plainly false" and "a flat-out lie." She added that his misdirection "shut out important avenues" for Congress to investigate. Jackson believes Stone knew his efforts to get damaging information from WikiLeaks about Clinton "could reflect badly on the president."
The judge also pressed Crabb on why two very different sentencing memos had been filed by prosecutors and why the DOJ decided to shun the guidelines in the case when department policies don't allow prosecutors to argue for a sentence that is below guidelines without approval. She wanted to know why Crabb was even in court.
"I fear that you know less about this case than possibly anybody else in the courtroom," she posited. "What is the government's position today?"
Crabb noted that the original prosecutors — the four who had resigned from the case after Barr stepped in — had approval from U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea to make their sentencing recommendation and that when they filed, it was "done in good faith." His understanding was that there had been a "miscommunication" between Barr and Shea that dealt with "what the expectations were from the attorney general and what the appropriate filing would be."
He apologized for the "confusion," though his position still didn't seem clear. He would not say whether he had written the second, lighter sentencing recommendation because it would expose "internal deliberations," but it did include his signature.
Stone asked for probation based on his age and lack of criminal record, and defense attorney Seth Ginsberg asked for mercy, noting that his client is "a real person, not a media figure, not a political character, but a real person," who will soon become a great-grandfather. He added that he "devoted himself" to causes that include veterans, animal welfare, and football players with traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, he mentioned that Stone has "worked to bridge racial divides in this country."
Ginsberg told the court that is "who Mr. Stone really is — not the larger than life political persona that he plays on TV but the real person who goes home every day to his wife and his family."
While one of Stone's convictions was witness tampering of radio host Randy Credico, Ginsberg said the host understands Stone was "all bark and no bite." Credico did ask for leniency for Stone in a letter to the court, writing, "Stone, at his core, is an insecure person who craves and recklessly pursues attention. ... Prison is no remedy."
Jackson ultimately opined that seven to nine years was too harsh of a sentence, but probation would be too light. She noted Stone had shown "flagrant disrespect for the institutions of government established by the Constitution, including the Congress and this court."
She also read part of his texts that threatened to kill Credico and steal his dog. "The defendant referred to this as banter, which it hardly is," she noted. "Nothing about this case was a joke; it wasn't funny, it wasn't a stunt, and it wasn't a prank."
The judge also reflected back on the defendant's threats to her personally, when it stirred others to claim the trial was rigged. She said he "willfully increased the risk that someone with even poorer judgment than" him would take action and put the whole courthouse in danger.
In the end, Stone is one of six people who worked for Trump or his campaign or administration who have either pleaded guilty or been convicted in former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The other five are former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
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