WASHINGTON – Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in prison, a punishment that is likely to fuel criticism from the president and speculation that he’ll pardon the flamboyant GOP operative.
Though less than what prosecutors originally asked for, the sentence marks the downfall of a political consultant who advised presidential campaigns stretching back to Richard Nixon. The 67-year-old was found guilty in November of repeatedly lying to the House Intelligence Committee and obstructing its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone “took it upon himself to lie, to impede, to obstruct before the investigation was complete, in an endeavor to influence the result.”
“The truth still exists; the truth still matters,” Jackson said. Stone stood expressionless next to his three defense attorneys.
Jackson also sentenced Stone to two years of probation and ordered him to pay $20,000 in fines.
Stone smiled briefly as he exited the courtroom. He declined to respond to questions shouted by a gantlet of reporters.
The sentence will not take effect until Jackson rules on a motion for a new trial. Stone’s attorneys made the request last week after Trump accused one of the jurors of “significant bias.”
Stone’s convictions stem from his actions in 2016, when he tried to set up back-channel communications with WikiLeaks to push for the release of emails stolen from the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts, denying that he talked to the Trump campaign about them.
Trump signaled Thursday that a pardon is not imminent. “I’m going to let this process play out,” Trump told a prisoner graduation ceremony in Las Vegas.
“Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly,” Trump said. “And this has not been a fair process.”
Judge defends integrity of prosecution
Jackson’s decision, announced before a packed courtroom, came after a tumultuous 10 days for the Justice Department. Four career prosecutors withdrew from Stone’s case last week after the Justice Department overruled their recommendation that he serve seven to nine years in prison. One resigned.
Before announcing her sentence, Jackson rebuked Stone’s conduct, saying he was “proud to act with impunity outside the law.” She defended the integrity of the investigation.
“There was nothing unfair about the investigation and the prosecution,” Jackson said, adding that Stone was not prosecuted because of his politics. “He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
In a thinly veiled reference to Trump, Jackson said Stone’s sentence should not be decided or influenced by someone who’s a friend of the defendant and whose “political career was aided by the defendant.”
Jackson called the Justice Department’s intervention “unprecedented” and praised the four prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis.
“Any suggestion that the prosecution in this case did anything untoward, unethical or improper is incorrect,” Jackson said.
In its revised sentencing memo, the Justice Department said the aggravating factors used to arrive at the original recommendation still applied, but seven to nine years in prison would be too harsh.
Prosecutors stand by original sentencing rationale
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr. apologized to Jackson for the confusion caused by the conflicting sentence recommendations.
Crabb, who took over the case last week, said the original recommendation was approved by newly appointed U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea but not by the top leadership of the Justice Department. Crabb said there was “a miscommunication” between Shea and Barr “regarding the expectations that the attorney general had” for a lesser sentence.
Pressed by Jackson, Crabb declined to explain internal deliberations.
Prosecutors effectively stood by the rationale in the original sentencing memo on Thursday, with Crabb arguing for the same punishment enhancements.
“The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the law,” Crabb told Jackson. “This was a righteous prosecution.”
Crabb then asked Jackson to impose “a substantial period of incarceration,” though he did not recommend a specific time period.
Defense attorneys argued the guideline for first-time offenders convicted of similar crimes is 15 to 21 months. They asked that Stone be sentenced to probation.
Seth Ginsberg, one of the defense attorneys, urged Jackson to think of Stone as “a real person, not a media figure, not a political character,” and to consider Stone’s age.
“Mr. Stone has many admirable qualities,” Ginsberg said, citing supportive letters submitted to the court. Ginsberg noted Stone’s advocacy work to help veterans, animals and NFL players with traumatic brain injuries.
In arguing for a sentence of seven to nine years, the original prosecuting team called Stone’s crimes “a direct and brazen attack on the rule of law.” Prosecutors outlined what they considered aggravating factors: threatening emails and text messages to a witness, depriving the House Intelligence Committee of documents needed in its Russia investigation, committing extensive crimes that spanned years and posting an Instagram image of the judge with a gun’s crosshair next to her head.
During the hearing, which lasted less than three hours, Jackson agreed that all but one of the aggravating factors should apply in sentencing Stone. She said she didn’t agree Stone’s crimes were extensive.
‘He knew exactly what he was doing’
Jackson castigated Stone over his actions after he was indicted in early 2019, including his repeated violation of a gag order prohibiting him from speaking publicly about the case and his post of the judge and crosshair image.
“He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. … He knew exactly what he was doing,” Jackson said. “The defendant engaged in a threatening and intimidating conduct towards the court.”
Stone’s hearing in the federal courthouse in Washington attracted a small, eclectic group of protesters who stood in the cold, holding signs that said, “Putin’s lapdog,” a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some called Stone a traitor as he arrived Thursday morning. Others held a banner saying, “#PardonRogerStone.” Nearby was an inflatable rat mascot with Trump-style hair.
Two billboard trucks circled the courthouse. One addressed Barr: “Have you forgotten your oath?”
As Stone left the courthouse, he ignored bystanders shouting, “Lock him up” and “Pardon Roger Stone.”
Stone is the latest Trump ally to be convicted and sentenced in cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Five other former Trump campaign aides and allies pleaded guilty or were convicted as a result of the Mueller investigation.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who awaits sentencing, pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Flynn’s case was bogged down after the former Army general withdrew his guilty plea and accused prosecutors of forcing him to admit to crimes he didn’t commit.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison after he was convicted of several charges, including fraud. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, is serving three years in prison for lying to Congress, among other crimes.
Rick Gates, a former campaign aide, was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which he can serve intermittently over three years while he’s on probation. George Papadopoulos served a two-week sentence for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians.