Roger Stone, a longtime ally of Donald Trump and a self-described political dirty trickster, was sentenced on Thursday to more than three years in prison for his attempts to sabotage a congressional investigation that posed a political threat to the president.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US district court for the District of Columbia lambasted Stone, 67, calling his attempts to thwart a congressional inquiry of “great national significance” a “threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy”.
But she sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison, far less than the punishment prosecutors originally sought. Stone was convicted in November on seven felony charges, including lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Stone had denied wrongdoing.
Jackson argued Stone’s disregard for the truth should worry all those who care about American democracy and accused him of covering up for Trump. “The dismay and disgust at the defendant’s belligerence should transcend party,” Jackson said.
“The truth still exists,” she said. “The truth still matters.”
After the sentencing, a spokeswoman for Stone appealed directly to Trump for a pardon.
“It falls on President Trump to use the power of a pardon as the final means of checks and balances to right this horrible wrong,” Kristin Davis said in a statement.
Trump, who issued 11 high-profile pardons earlier this week, said he was holding off for now.
“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States,” Trump said during an appearance in Las Vegas. “I want the process to play out. I think that’s the best thing to do because I would love to see Roger exonerated.”
Adam Schiff, a high-profile California Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee, said to pardon Stone when his crimes were committed to protect Trump would be a “breathtaking act of corruption”.
Roger Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress and threatening a witness.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 20, 2020
He did it to cover up for Trump. His sentence is justified.
It should go without saying, but to pardon Stone when his crimes were committed to protect Trump would be a breathtaking act of corruption.
Stone wore a bemused look for much of the nearly three-hour hearing on Thursday, standing with his defense team to receive his sentence. A small group of male supporters with mostly trendy haircuts, designer bags and Make America Great Again embellishments watched the proceedings from an overflow room next to where Stone was being sentenced.
At one point, security removed one of the men after he began protesting against Jackson’s remarks. “Ridiculous. This is a sham,” he cried as he was escorted out of the room. Outside the courtroom, rightwing activists chanted “Pardon Roger Stone” while opponents shouted:“Lock him up.”
The sentencing went ahead despite an 11th-hour request by Stone’s defense team for a new trial.
Jackson has not yet ruled definitively on that motion, but she determined that postponing the sentencing would not be “a prudent thing to do given all the circumstances”. Stone will not have to report to prison until the court rules on that motion, which is based on a claim of juror bias.
Stone, a flamboyant Republican operative who began his political career as a junior staffer on Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, had become a cause célèbre for supporters of the president, who said he was being punished for defending his longtime friend.
Jackson forcefully rejected such claims, stating that Stone was not being prosecuted “for standing up for the president” but for “covering up for the president”.
Stone’s sentencing hearing followed an extraordinary series of events in which justice department officials overruled a sentencing recommendation by the prosecutors of between seven and nine years in federal prison, a punishment Trump assailed on Twitter as “horrible and very unfair”.
After the president condemned the prosecutors directly and decried a “miscarriage of justice”, the attorney general, William Barr, intervened and sought a more lenient punishment. His intervention prompted the entire prosecution team to resign in protest, including one member who left the justice department altogether.
Barr – a close ally of the president – also publicly reproached Trump, saying the president’s online commentary about politically sensitive investigations made it “impossible” for him to do his job.
Trump eventually said on Twitter that he had not asked the attorney general to “do anything in a criminal case”, but argued that, as president, he had “the legal right to do so” and had “so far chosen not to!”
Despite Barr’s rebuke, Trump continued to weigh in on the case on Twitter. On Tuesday, he quoted the Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano who claimed that the jury harbored biases against the president and that “almost any judge in the country” would throw out the conviction.
“Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out,” Trump wrote in another tweet.
On Thursday, Jackson asked the new prosecution team to explain its position, noting that the justice department had not actually withdrawn its initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years in prison.
“I fear that you know less about the case than just about everybody else in the courtroom,” Jackson told John Crabb, the prosecutor newly assigned to the case.
Crabb apologized for the “confusion” surrounding the sentencing recommendation and defended the initial trial team, who he said had received approval to submit the initial sentencing memo.
“This prosecution was, and this prosecution is, righteous,” Crabb said.
Asked by Jackson whether he had written the court filing that reversed the original sentencing recommendation, Crabb declined to say.
Jackson told the court that she believed the original recommendation was well-researched but unnecessarily punitive, a conclusion she said she reached notwithstanding the “unprecedented actions of the Department of Justice in the past week”.
Stone’s attorney, Seth Ginsberg, asked Jackson to consider the man and not the “larger-than-life” public persona his client had cultivated over the course of decades. Stone, Ginsberg argued, is a faithful family man with no criminal record whose political activism includes support for football players who suffered concussions and animal rights groups.
“Mr Stone is, in fact, not simply that public persona, but a human being,” Ginsberg said.
Since Trump was acquitted by the Senate of charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress, he has embarked on a campaign of retribution against his perceived political enemies while intervening to protect allies who have been loyal. His defense of Stone came just days after the conclusion of the Senate impeachment trial. Trump has not ruled out pardoning his longtime friend.
On Thursday he appeared to raise that possibility again. The president tweeted out a clip of the Fox News host Tucker Carlson saying Stone should be pardoned and also pinned it to the top of his feed.
Stone’s convictions stem from the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During the course of the week-long trial, the jury heard from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chairman, that Stone was the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks, which published a trove of stolen Democratic emails in the final weeks of the last presidential campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this story