Roger Stone — a close associate of President Donald Trump — was sentenced on Thursday to 40 months in prison. He’d been convicted of trying to sabotage the Russia probe, covering up his conversations with Trump supporters and WikiLeaks in order to help Trump’s 2016 campaign.
"This is intolerable to the administration of justice and the court should not sit idly by, shrug its shoulders and say well that is just Roger being Roger,” US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said before handing down the sentence. She later added, "The truth still exists. The truth still matters. Roger Stone's insistence that it doesn’t ... [is] a threat to our most fundamental institutions."
Stone’s lawyers asked for a new trial this week, claiming a member of the jury was biased. Jackson said on Wednesday she would “defer execution of any sentence” until she rules on whether to grant a new trial — meaning Stone wouldn’t have to begin a prison term until that matter is resolved.
Trump has yet to rule out pardoning Stone, 67, for his seven felonies, but indicated Thursday that he's unlikely to pardon Stone before a decision is made about a new trial. "I'm following this very closely and I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion," he said.
Even before the court’s decision Thursday, the length of Stone’s sentence exploded into a national controversy over inappropriate political overreach.
Four prosecutors who were originally assigned to the case had called for a term of seven to nine years, but Trump balked, saying on Twitter that would be a “very unfair situation” and “miscarriage of justice!” Political appointees at the Justice Department quickly intervened to request a lighter punishment, prompting all four prosecutors to quit the case.
Before Stone was sentenced, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General to investigate, saying, "This situation has all the indicia of improper political interference.”
Jackson on Thursday pressed the government on the lighter sentencing memo, noting that the original one had never been withdrawn. "For those who woke up last week and became persuaded that the guidelines are harsh … defense attorneys and judges have been making that argument for a very long time. ... But we don’t usually succeed in getting the government to agree,” she said, according to the Washington Post.
Stone joins several other members of the Republican president’s inner orbit who’ve been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal crimes. The roster includes Trump's former campaign deputy chair Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, and former campaign chair Paul Manafort.
In November, a jury found Stone guilty on five counts of lying to Congress and one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of Congress. "Witnesses do not get to decide for themselves whether Congress is entitled to the facts,” Jackson said Thursday.
Stone was heckled by one protester as "a traitor" as he entered the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse on Thursday morning, where demonstrators had erected a giant inflatable rat with Trump's hair and tie.
An eccentric, self-styled “dirty trickster” who has been compared to “a tax collector from a candy-themed board game” and “a czarist Mr. Peanut,” Stone worked for Trump’s campaign through August 2015 and continued to act as an adviser to the president after Trump took office.
Stone was arrested in January 2019 after former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office indicted him on charges of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. WikiLeaks had published emails, obtained by Russians, from the hacked servers of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Stone and Trump made phone calls in 2016, prosecutors showed, including the same day the DNC announced it had been hacked, though the content of those phone calls remains unknown.
Although Stone denied being in contact with Assange, who was sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, prosecutors presented emails and text messages alleging he was repeatedly in touch with WikiLeaks and people involved in the Trump campaign about publishing the leaks. Court records indicate Stone told an unidentified person involved in Trump’s campaign, "Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” Prosecutors also say Stone “subsequently told the [Trump] supporter that more material would be released and that it would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.”
In 2016, Stone had also communicated with Guccifer 2.0, who had taken credit for the hack of the DNC's computers. (Mueller’s office later charged 12 Russians with the hack.) Stone called his communications “innocuous.”
On the obstruction charge, Stone’s indictment said he “testified falsely and misleadingly” before the House Intelligence Committee, lied about the existence of records, falsely misled the committee about communications with colleagues, and pressured radio host Randy Credico to “falsely testify.”
As for witness tampering, prosecutors said Stone “knowingly and intentionally corruptly persuaded and attempted to corruptly persuade another person … with intent to influence, delay, and prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding,” in reference to Credico. Stone repeatedly urged Credico not to comply with the FBI and congressional investigations and told him to pull a “Frank Pentangeli” (a reference to the character in The Godfather Part II who lies to Congress after his brother is threatened).
Stone didn't exactly curry favor with the judge during the trial.
Instead, Stone had antagonized the court by posting an image on Instagram that portrayed Jackson with what appeared to be gun crosshairs next to her head. Jackson responded by barring him from speaking publicly about his case or Mueller’s investigation, saying, "The privilege, the liberty he was afforded, was promptly abused.”
Stone commented afterward, “I am kicking myself over my own stupidity.”
But Stone had noisy volunteers tied to the Proud Boys — a violent, racist, all-male conservative group — who continued to discuss the case online on his behalf, including one Stone ally who retweeted a message that said, “ROGER STONE DID NOTHING WRONG. SUPPORTING TRUMP IS NOT A CRIME. THE LEFT WANTS US DEAD. THE LEFT WANTS US IN PRISON. THE LEFT WANTS US SILENT."
Assistant US Attorney Aaron Zelinsky (one of the prosecutors who quit the case earlier this month) told the jury when the trial began in November, “Evidence will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad. The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”
Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal lawyer, tried to distance the president from Stone in a statement at the time of his arrest. "The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else,” Sekulow said at the time. “Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress."