‘Truth still matters’: Judge sentences Roger Stone to 3 years in prison for obstructing Congress’ Russia investigation

WASHINGTON — Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in prison and two years of probation, 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 a stunning downfall for the longtime political consultant who has 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. Roger stone insisted that it doesn’t,” Jackson said as Stone stood expressionless next to his three defense attorneys.

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Jackson also sentenced Stone to two years of probation and ordered him to pay $20,000 in fines. The sentence will not take effect until Jackson rules on a pending motion for a new trial. Stone’s attorneys made the request last week after Trump accused one of the jurors of “significant bias.”

The sentence, which Jackson announced before a packed courtroom, comes 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 up seven to nine years in prison. One resigned. 

The intervention from the agency’s leadership came hours after Trump criticized their recommended sentence, raising concerns among prosecutors, former prosecutors and judges about the appearance of political interference in the Justice Department. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have called for Attorney General William Barr to resign.

During the hearing, Jackson called the Justice Department’s intervention “unprecedented.” She praised the four prosecutors – Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis – calling their sentence recommendation thorough and well-researched.

“Any suggestion that the prosecution in this case did anything untoward, unethical or improper is incorrect,” Jackson said. However, she said their recommended sentence was too harsh.

In a thinly veiled reference to Trump, who has publicly injected himself into the case, 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.”

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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.” 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?”

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. 

Roger Stone, a longtime Republican provocateur and former confidant of President Donald Trump, waits in line at the federal court in Washington DC on Nov. 12, 2019.

Stone repeatedly lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts, denying that he had talked to the Trump campaign about them. 

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.” They 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 Thursday, Jackson agreed that all but one of the aggravating factors should apply in sentencing Stone. Jackson said she does not believe Stone’s behavior rises to the level of extensive crimes.

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 posting an Instagram image of the judge with a gun’s crosshair next to her face.

“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.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr., who took over the case, did not recommend a specific sentence, though he asked Jackson to impose “a substantial period of incarceration.”

Crabb apologized to Jackson for the “confusion” over the sentence recommendation. He 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 the attorney general.

Pressed further by Jackson, Crabb declined to explain internal deliberations within the Justice Department.

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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 old 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 who suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

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 have pleaded guilty or were convicted as a result of the Mueller investigation.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who’s still awaiting sentencing, pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Flynn’s case has been 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 Papadopoulous served a two-week sentence for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians. 

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