Calling the president’s frequent tweets about the case “entirely inappropriate,” a federal judge sentenced Donald Trump ally Roger Stone to over three years in prison on Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson handed down a 40-month sentence after Stone was convicted in November on a seven-count indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
The sentence seems likely to draw a public rebuke from Trump, who maintains that Stone’s entire case is just an aspect of the ongoing “witch hunt” against him and his allies by bitter Democrats and the “deep state” inside the FBI and the Justice Department.
Given Trump’s clemency spree this week, there has also been speculation that Trump could eventually pardon Stone.
“I haven’t given it any thought … but I think he’s been treated very unfairly,” Trump said this week.
Outside the courthouse, a small crowd gathered for Stone’s arrival. Two people held a large banner featuring a sketch of Stone and #PardonRogerStone emblazoned underneath. Next to it was a large multimedia figure of a rat constructed to look like Trump, with his distinctive red tie and hair.
Stone, wearing dark sunglasses and a fedora, had no comment as he arrived, with one onlooker shouting “Traitor!”
Stone is the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are currently serving prison sentences, while Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos received short prison terms. The fate of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn has yet to be determined; Flynn withdrew an earlier guilty plea.
Sentencing recommendation changed, sparking resignations
In Stone’s initial sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 10, prosecutors said Stone deserved a prison term lasting seven to nine years, in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. Such a sentence would send a message to deter others who might consider lying or obstructing a congressional probe or tampering with witnesses, the prosecutors said.
Prosecutors had charged in the filing that Stone “decided to double- and triple-down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful.”
“Stone’s actions were not a one-off mistake in judgment. Nor were his false statements made in the heat of the moment. They were nowhere close to that,” prosecutors wrote in the court papers.
Trump took to Twitter to denounce that recommendation as a “miscarriage of justice.”
Attorney General William Barr then backed off that recommendation, prompting four prosecutors to quit Stone’s case.
The attorney general ordered a new memorandum with a less harsh punishment, though it provided no specifics and left the details to the judge.
Barr later said in an ABC News interview that he had not been asked by Trump to look into the case, but he did not go into great detail as to why he chose to intervene in this specific case.
The controversy prompted a rare statement from the Chief Judge of the D.C. District Court, Beryl A. Howell, who said “public criticism or pressure is not a factor” in judges’ sentencing decisions.
In an open letter to the media, over 1,000 former Justice Department officials last week called on Barr to resign.
“A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President,” the letter read. “Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”
Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks under scrutiny
Stone, 67, has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during his trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defence.
Stone’s defence team requested a new trial and had asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to delay sentencing until she rules on that motion. Earlier this week she refused, opting to rule on the motion separately.
Trump associates at conservative media outlets have run segments and articles alleging that a specific juror in the case was biased against Stone.
The evidence presented in trial provided new insight into the scramble inside the Trump campaign when it was revealed in July 2016 that the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks was in possession of more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
Witnesses testified that Trump’s campaign viewed Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and tried to use him to get advance word about hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Prosecutors argued that Stone had lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host and comedian Randy Credico.
During the 2016 campaign, Stone had mentioned in interviews and public appearances that he was in contact with founder Julian Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.
Godfather references, dog threats
Testimony revealed that Stone, while appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, named Credico as his intermediary to Assange and pressured Credico not to contradict him.
After Credico was contacted by Congress, he reached out to Stone, who told him he should “stonewall it” and “plead the fifth,” he testified. Credico also testified during Stone’s trial that Stone repeatedly told him to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli,'” a reference to a character in The Godfather: Part II who lies before Congress.
Prosecutors also charged that Stone had threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was “going to take that dog away from you.”
In the run-up to trial, Stone raised the ire of the judge with comments made in social media posts and interviews, leading to a gag order and the threat of pre-trial detention.
While Trump has tried to downplay his personal relationship with some of the associates previously charged or convicted, it is more difficult in the case of Stone, a friend for decades.
The real estate tycoon was a client of the lobbying firm Black, Manafort and Stone beginning in the 1980s, and admitted in the recent documentary Get Me Roger Stone that the Republican operative has long groomed him for a run for political office. Stone was often by Trump’s side as he talked up a possible 2000 bid for president as a candidate of the Reform Party.
In 2015, Stone was on board as Trump launched his bid for president as a Republican, but left the campaign under unclear circumstances in August that year, soon after Corey Lewandowski took over as campaign chair.
But as details of the indictment made clear, Stone was regularly in touch with Trump campaign officials throughout the campaign in 2016 and into the transition phase.