WASHINGTON — Trump loyalist and ally Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in federal prison, following a move by Attorney General William Barr to back off his Justice Department’s original sentencing recommendation.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone’s crimes demanded a significant time behind bars, but she said the seven to nine years originally recommended by the Justice Department were excessive.
Stone’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age of 67 years, his health and his lack of criminal history.
Stone was convicted in November on all seven counts of an indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
The sentence came amid Trump’s unrelenting defense of his longtime confidant that has led to a mini-revolt inside the Justice Department and allegations the president has interfered in the case.
Trump took to Twitter to denounce as a “miscarriage of justice” the initial recommendation by Justice Department prosecutors that Stone receive at least seven years in prison. Attorney General William Barr then backed off that recommendation, prompting four prosecutors to quit Stone’s case.
Jackson angrily denied that Stone was being punished for his politics or his allies. “He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” she said.
She said during the hearing that Stone’s use of social media to stoke public sentiment against the prosecution and the court was intended to reach a wide audience, including using a photo of Jackson with crosshairs superimposed.
“This is intolerable to the administration of justice,” Jackson said.
“Why are you the one who is standing here today?” Jackson asked federal prosecutor John Crabb, who took over the case after the original trial team quit.
Crabb said there had been a “miscommunication” between Barr and Timothy Shea, the former Barr aide who now serves as the acting U.S. Attorney in the nation’s capital.
Crabb asked the judge to impose “a substantial period of incarceration.”
After Stone’s attorney, Seth Ginsberg, repeated the defense team’s plea that Stone get no prison time, Stone declined to address the court.
Outside the courthouse, a small crowd gathered. 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 was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Any jail 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 recent clemency spree that saw him commute the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as nearly a dozen others, there has 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. Overnight Thursday, Trump retweeted a conservative cable host’s comment that what happened to Stone “should never happen again.”
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.
Stone 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 defense.
Stone’s defense team requested a new trial and had asked the judge to delay sentencing until she rules on that motion. Earlier this week she refused.
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.
But Justice Department officials said they were caught off guard by the recommendation, even though Shea, the acting U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is a former top aide to Barr. The attorney general ordered a new memorandum with a less harsh punishment, though it left provided no specifics and left the details to the judge.
Barr’s decision became public just hours after Trump, in an overnight tweet, called the situation “horrible and very unfair.” He added: “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Barr later said in an ABC News interview that he had not been asked by Trump to look into the case.