WASHINGTON (CN) — Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to three years and four months in prison, but speculation that the president may hand the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” a get-out-of-jail-free card will keep the case rooted in the national spotlight.
The sentence handed down just after noon by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson aligns with the terms made more lenient with input from Justice Department higher-ups. Though prosecutors had originally recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, President Donald Trump slammed that filing as a “miscarriage of justice,” and less than 24 hours later the U.S. Attorney’s Office updated its suggestion to three to four years.
With a not-so-veiled rebuke of the president, Jackson on Thursday said “entirely inappropriate” comments from longtime allies of the defendant cannot influence the court.
Sending a clear message that echoed closing arguments delivered by the prosecution at trial, Jackson affirmed that, in the face of Stone’s false testimony to Congress: “The truth still exists. The truth still matters.”
To turn a blind eye to Stone’s crimes, Jackson warned, would cripple the justice system: It would not be a victory for one party — rather, “everyone loses.”
“For that reason the dismay and disgust at the defendant’s belligerence should transcend party,” the judge said.
Jackson also broke her silence on the direct attacks Trump leveled against her over Twitter last week.
“Unsurprisingly I have a lot to say,” the judge said.
Stone’s supporters, the president among them, have been outspoken in claiming that the defendant’s political activities triggered his investigation by the Justice Department. But Jackson rejected this argument. “It arose because Roger Stone characteristically injected himself smack into the middle of one of the most significant issues of the day,” she said.
Wearing a black pinstriped suit with a light blue shirt, Stone stood at the court lectern and did not react as Jackson read his sentence. Stone must pay a $20,000 fine and faces two years of probation after his release from prison. As they braced for the judgment, Stone’s daughter put her arms around Stone’s wife in the first row of the courtroom.
The newly assigned assistant U.S. attorney on the case, John Crabb, told the judge it was the recommendation of the Justice Department that she sentence Stone to “a substantial period of incarceration.”
“This prosecution was, and this prosecution is, righteous,” Crabb assured her.
All four federal prosecutors who brought the case to trial withdrew from the legal proceedings Feb. 11 amid reports that the Justice Department planned to reverse their sentence recommendation filed a day earlier. The exits included one prosecutor stepping down from his special assignment in Washington and another resigning as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Strongly rebuking the Justice Department for the shakeup, Judge Jackson told Crabb that she worried that he knew less about the case on record than just about everyone else in the courtroom.
The prosecutor apologized to the judge for the confusion and explained that there was a “miscommunication” between the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and Attorney General Bill Barr.
“There is nothing in bad faith about what was done with the original trial team here,” Crabb told the judge.
But Jackson pressed him to explain the purported miscommunication, asking if Crabb was instructed to author the amended sentencing recommendation. The prosecutor apologized again, this time saying he could not elaborate on “internal deliberations.”
“The government has the utmost conference that we defer to the court and that the court will apply a just and fair sentence in this matter,” Crabb said.
President Trump reacted hours later after taking the stage at a graduation ceremony for former prisoners. Though he repeated his claim Stone was treated unfairly, Trump also appeared to distance himself from the defendant by leveling an assertion the Justice Department disproved at Stone’s trial with evidence and witness testimony.
“Roger was never involved in the Trump campaign for president, he wasn’t involved,” Trump said. “I think early on, long before I announced, he may have done a little consulting work or something. But he was not involved when I ran for president.”
Trump has repeatedly declined to answer questions on whether he plans to pardon Stone. While claiming that he wants to see the case play out, and that he has no plans to exert the “great powers bestowed on the president,” Trump repeatedly said that he will be watching the case closely and at some point “make a determination.”
“I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion,” Trump said.
In the intervening week, Democrats have said the whiplash over Stone’s case should be investigated, and a bulwark of more than 2,500 former Justice Department attorneys from both Democrat and Republican administrations called on Attorney General Barr to resign.
Stone — a longtime conservative operative who first advised Trump to launch a run for the White House in 1998 — meanwhile renewed his push for a new trial. Though Jackson denied his first request Feb. 5, Stone filed a new motion on Feb. 14 in a move that could represent a bid to buy time while awaiting a presidential pardon. Jackson has agreed to defer the execution of Stone’s sentence, and to extend the time to file an appeal, until the motion has been resolved.
A federal jury convicted Stone in November 2019 on charges related to obstruction, false testimony and witness tampering during the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The seven criminal counts brought by prosecutors working under then-special counsel Robert Mueller carried a maximum 50 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines Stone was never expected to serve the lengthy prison sentence.
Leading up to the sentence, Jackson accepted three guideline enhancements proposed by the Justice Department while rejecting a fourth proposal to calculate a harsher sentence with a two-level increase. Jackson said the offense was not extensive in scope, or a “multi-year scheme” as the Justice Department argued.
Commenting on the original recommendation, Jackson said she was concerned the original request of seven to nine years was too high.
She said she doubted she would have sentenced Stone within that range, noting that the guidelines would have recommended Stone receive between 30 and 37 months behind bars but for the significant enhancement related to threatening Credico. Jackson’s final decision took that into account to some degree, but not to the full amount the guidelines suggested.
She also rejected the defense’s assertions that the crimes were just a symptom of Stone’s flamboyant personality, emphasizing that letters on Stone’s behalf from family and friends had even noted the defendant’s proclivity for “incendiary activity.”
“This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the court should not sit ideally by, shrug its shoulders and say, ‘Well, that is just Roger being Roger,” the judge said.
Another letter entreating Jackson not to imprison the defendant came from conservative radio host Randy Credico — the very witness Stone was convicted of tampering with. This conviction stems specifically from Stone’s false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that Credico was his middleman to Julian Assange at WikiLeaks.
Credico described Stone in his letter as “an insecure person who craves and recklessly pursues attention,” but Jackson said that the defendant exhibited flagrant disregard for the rule of law.
“The problem is that nothing about this case was a joke,” the judge said. “It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t a stunt, and it wasn’t a prank.”
Less than 24 hours before Thursday’s hearing, new allegations about the Trump campaign’s ties to WikiLeaks emerged in London. Addressing the Westminster Magistrates’ Court where Assange is fighting extradition to the U.S. under the Espionage Act, lawyers for Assange dropped a bombshell claim that Trump had offered to pardon the WikiLeaks founder if he said that Russia was not tied to the Democratic National Committee email leaks that badly damaged Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Top campaign advisers including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon testified at Stone’s criminal trial last year that Stone was the campaign’s only inroad to WikiLeaks during the 2016 race to the White House.
Trump in the last week has called the Mueller investigation that led to convictions of several of his former advisers “badly tainted” and a scam, staunchly defending Stone and suggesting that he deserves a new trial.
Judge Jackson slammed the accusations coming out of the Oval Office and affirmed that there was nothing “unfair” or “phony” about the investigations, reminding the court that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Amid cries of political interference in a criminal prosecution, Trump has repeatedly denied having a hand in the Justice Department flipping its stance on Stone’s sentence. The president declined to comment on whether he plans to act on Article II, Section II, of the U.S. Constitution and grant the former campaign adviser a pardon.
Prosecutors introduced FBI phone records at trial that mapped 60 calls between Stone and Trump from January to November 2016 — including a conversation on an upcoming WikiLeaks dump of tens of thousands of the Russian-hacked emails — matched by hundreds of other calls by the defendant to top campaign aides in the year leading up to the presidential election.
In a document-heavy trial infused with damning testimony, the Justice Department presented a clearer picture than previously laid out by the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s strategic efforts to exploit the Russian-hacked email leaks as political kryptonite for the Clinton campaign.
“Mr. Stone indicated that WikiLeaks would be submitting or dropping information but no information on dates or anything of that nature,” Rick Gates, former campaign deputy, testified at trial.
Throughout those proceedings, prosecutors mounted evidence such as Gates’ account of a summer 2016 call between Stone and then-candidate Trump that undercut written statements Trump provided to Mueller during the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
“I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign,” Trump wrote.
Whether Stone serves any time behind bars at all, the political fallout surrounding his sentencing shows no signs of abating.
Democrats who accused the president last week of political corruption in the Stone sentencing called for investigations by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department Inspector General’s Office.
One group appearing to heed the call was the Federal Judges Association, an organization of nearly 1,100 voluntary members led by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe. The group had planned to meet Wednesday, in what would have been an uncommon break of judicial silence, to address the issues at play in Barr personally taking the lead on all cases of personal or political importance to President Trump. After the meeting was called off, staff for Rufe declined to explain why or whether the meeting will be rescheduled.
Dug into the political underworld since joining the Richard Nixon campaign at the outset of his career as a GOP consultant, Stone promises to project front-stage in Washington as the remainder of his case concludes and Trump’s power to hand off a pardon remains in play.