Judge Condemns ‘Inappropriate’ Interference at Stone Sentencing
In the days leading up to Roger Stone’s sentencing, President Donald Trump slammed the judge and decried the prosecutors for carrying out a political hit job. At the hearing Thursday where Stone was given a prison sentence of three years and four months, the judge took her opportunity to fire back.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson spelled out in vivid detail Thursday why Stone deserved his sentence for tampering with a witness and obstructing a Congressional investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
She then took aim at Trump without naming him, calling outside comments attempting to interfere in the case “completely inappropriate.” Jackson implicitly rejected the president’s argument that the case was fueled by opposition to him, saying the “charge had nothing to do with political activity.” Rather, Stone’s belligerence and lies were “a threat to the very foundation of our democracy,” she said.
”The truth still exists,” the judge said. “The truth still matters.”
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School, said the message to Trump was unmistakable. “She said what what every other judge was thinking, which is that what he did was totally inappropriate,” said Levenson. “She was saying back off.”
While the prison term the judge imposed is far short of the seven-to-nine-year sentence sought by prosecutors in a Feb. 10 memo, Jackson and prosecutor John Crabb took pains to say that recommendation, which was revised downward by the Justice Department after Trump criticized it as unfair, was proper and well-supported under the law.
Read More: Roger Stone Sentencing Seen as Test of Judicial Independence
“This sentence is a triumph for the independence of the judiciary and a dark day for the Justice Department’s leadership — though not the rank and file,” said Christopher Hall, a former prosecutor now in private practice in Philadelphia.
After Trump scorched the earlier recommendation, the original four prosecutors quit the case and the Justice Department submitted a new memo seeking three to four years. The resulting political drama created an uproar that reportedly left Attorney General William Barr threatening to resign. It also set up Stone’s sentencing as a test of whether a federal judge would be intimidated.
Jackson, appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, and Crabb had only praise for the four original prosecutors on Thursday.
“Any suggestion that the prosecutors in this case did anything untoward, unethical or improper is incorrect,” the judge said. She took a swipe at the political uproar fomented by Trump’s tweets, saying that widespread concern over attempts to interfere with prosecutors “should transcend party.”
For his part, Crabb, who took over the case, said his predecessors acted “in good faith” and affirmed several key elements of the original sentencing memo. He also surprised many who observed the hearing by standing before Jackson and defending a hard line against Stone, a self-described political “dirty trickster” and longtime confidant of the president.
Crabb said the sentence should be imposed “without fear, favor or political influence.” He added: “This prosecution is righteous.”
Jackson said her sentence was based on clear evidence that Stone gave “plainly false” testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about his communications regarding WikiLeaks and third parties tied to its founder Julian Assange. The group released emails during the 2016 campaign intended to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence believes were hacked by Russia.
Jackson said it wasn’t Stone’s involvement with Trump that warranted a prison term but his lies about “a matter of great national and international significance” and threats against one of his associates.
“He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president,” she said. “He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
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