A federal judge who has been the target of President Trump’s gibes rebuked the president Thursday for his repeated attacks on prosecutors and the courts and criticized as “unprecedented” Atty. Gen. William Barr’s controversial intervention in the sentencing of Roger Stone, one of the president’s longtime allies.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson chastised the president and the nation’s top prosecutor shortly before she sentenced Stone to three years and four months behind bars for crimes committed during the special counsel and congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Jackson rejected claims by Trump’s supporters that the prosecution of Stone, a Republican political operative and self-described dirty trickster, was politically inspired to take down one of the president’s associates.
Stone was “not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president,” Jackson told a packed court room. “He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
The judge added that Stone “lied and sought to impede production of information not to some secret anti-Trump cabal but to Congress,” which she noted was in Republican control at the time.
The politically charged case has caused turmoil in the Justice Department and in the federal judiciary, exposing a fault line between the attorney general and the president.
Jackson delayed ordering Stone to report to prison until she hears defense motions seeking a new trial. But she offered a blistering critique of his misconduct and his efforts to stonewall a congressional inquiry.
“Roger Stone took it upon himself to lie, impede, to obstruct,” the judge said, adding that his actions undermined the government’s ability to thwart foreign interference in elections. “The defendant lied about a matter of great national and international significance. This was not campaign high jinks.”
The judge also questioned John Crabb, the assistant U.S. attorney, about the debacle in the Justice Department that culminated in four career prosecutors dramatically withdrawing from the case in protest over Barr’s interference.
Crabb told the judge that the prosecution was “righteous” and that Stone deserved a “substantial” prison sentence, but he refused to provide details about what had transpired. He characterized the chaos last week as a result of miscommunication at the Justice Department.
Stone was convicted by a jury in November of seven felonies including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a House investigation during the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Stone is the sixth Trump associate to be convicted of charges arising from Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Stone declined to address the court during the 2½-hour sentencing hearing. Smiling as he left the courthouse, Stone was cheered by more than a dozen supporters who chanted, “Pardon Roger Stone,” while a group of protesters shouted, “Lock him up!”
Trump, speaking Thursday at a law enforcement event in Las Vegas, assailed the jury forewoman in Stone’s trial for her “horrible social media account” and hinted that he might pardon his friend. “Because I’d love to see Roger exonerated. I personally think he was treated very unfairly,” he said.
Trump has alleged “significant bias” from the forewoman, who praised the prosecutors’ integrity on Facebook after they quit the case last week.
During the hearing, Stone’s defense lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, urged Jackson to be lenient, saying Stone had suffered from his arrest and trial. “The process really has been punishment enough,” he said.
Ginsberg noted that Stone is 67 and cited his charitable work and lack of a criminal record as mitigating factors. He said Stone is a “real human being” and not just “the larger-than-life political persona he plays on TV.”
Prosecutors had urged Jackson to impose a substantial prison term, although they did not say how long.
“This prosecution is and was righteous,” said Crabb, who took over the case last week. “The defendant was found guilty by a jury of his peers of obstructing justice, lying to Congress and witness tampering. The court should impose a substantial period of incarceration.”
In addition to 40 months in prison, Stone was sentenced to two years of probation.
The four career prosecutors who won Stone’s conviction recommended last week that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, citing federal sentencing guidelines. Hours later, Trump denounced the proposed sentence on Twitter, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.”
Barr and other top Justice Department officials concluded the recommended sentence was too severe and ordered prosecutors to reduce it. The attorney general said he ordered the change before Trump tweeted his displeasure about it.
Rather than follow Barr’s instructions, the four prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest, and one of them resigned. The Justice Department then filed a new motion that said Stone deserved a prison sentence but deferred to the judge on its potential length.
The president congratulated Barr “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control,” suggesting he had done the president’s bidding.
A day later, Barr publicly rebuked the president for his “constant background commentary,” complaining in a TV interview that Trump’s tweets about ongoing prosecutions were making it “impossible” to do his job.
In the hearing Thursday, Jackson defended the original prosecution team as having acted professionally. She said their original sentencing brief was appropriate, even if its reasoning resulted in too stiff a prison term.
The judge spent more than 20 minutes going through the facts of the case to brush back conspiracy theories that Stone was targeted by political adversaries or because he was a Trump confidant.
“The truth still exists, the truth still matters,” Jackson said. “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 democracies. If it goes unpunished it will not be a victory for one political party; everyone loses.”
Stone, long known for his outlandish stunts, went too far last year when he posted an image on social media that appeared to show a gun sight‘s crosshairs next to Jackson’s head. Threatening a judge is a felony and Jackson was furious.
After Stone apologized in court, saying he thought the crosshairs image was a Celtic cross, Jackson issued a gag order but did not jail him. After that, Stone remained largely quiet during his trial.
In a sealed motion, Stone’s attorneys asked the judge last week to dismiss the case. The basis for that request has not been made public, but one of Stone’s lawyers said in court Tuesday that it “goes to the heart of the case and is such a fundamental issue.” Stone’s lawyers wanted Jackson to delay the sentencing until she could rule on their motions for a new trial. She refused.
Stone made a name for himself in Republican circles dating back to the 1970s for his flamboyant personality and controversial claims. He still sports a large tattoo on his back of President Nixon, who was forced to resign during the Watergate scandal.
Before Trump jumped into the Republican primary race in 2015, Stone was one of his stalwart supporters, having repeatedly urged him to run in previous election cycles. He briefly served as an advisor on the campaign.