Attorney General William Barr may have intervened personally to soften the blow for Roger Stone, but he still had to come to the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D. C., on Thursday morning to face Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Jackson sentenced him to 40 months in prison.
The sentencing hearing began when, after a few perfunctory motions, and some arrangement of the overflow crowds, Jackson noted that while she was in receipt of Barr’s kinder, gentler sentencing guidelines, the ”initial memorandum has not been withdrawn." Which seems like something of a big “whoops.” Jackson then made it clear that she would look at both recommendations when making her decision. But clearly she considered one of those documents more valuable than the other.
Jackson took note of the sunglasses Stone, a close associate of Donald Trump, was wearing in the courtroom, saying that unless he had a medical condition, he needed to take them off—which appeared to be another sign that Jackson was in a no-BS mood. Jackson actually commiserated with those who thought the sentencing guidelines for Stone’s crimes were too harsh, saying that many judges and prosecutors had felt that way about the sentences for these crimes for years. She also said she was obligated to follow those guidelines.
Stone’s attorneys objected that in making death threats against witness Randy Credico, and Credico’s dog, Stone wasn’t really being serious. And because he wasn’t serious, they said, Jackson should ignore the sentencing rules that require action against someone who threatens a witness. Stone’s attorney then read from a letter from Credico saying that he never really felt that his life was in danger. None of this seemed to make much of an impression on Jackson, who has clearly heard that argument before.
Jackson then turned to new federal prosecutor John Crabb who, surprisingly, said that he still felt that the increased sentence required for threatening a witness applied. However, Jackson noted that the amended sentencing guidelines said that although the rules against threatening a witness “technically applied,” there was a suggestion that this didn’t really constitute a threat.
And then, after a moment’s consideration, Jackson said that she had determined that the 8-level enhancement sentencing rules did apply. So there. Jackson went back to the court transcript to reread some of the threats that Stone had sent to Credico, dismissing the idea that they were just “banter.” And Jackson made it clear that whether or not Credico says he felt threatened does not matter. However, Jackson said that she would consider Credico’s statement after calculating the required sentencing.
The discussion then moved to dealing with a second enhancement to the sentence, one that was required because Stone’s threats had been successful in convincing Credico to stay away. In spite of Barr’s reaching in to remove the seven-to-nine-year recommendation (replacing it with essentially no recommended sentence at all), new attorney Crabb continued to argue for the enhanced sentence. Stone’s attorneys argued that this enhancement didn’t apply to a congressional investigation. Once again, Jackson ruled that the enhancement did apply.
At this point, it was clear that Stone was not about to walk away with a slap on the wrist. In fact, the enhancements placed any potential sentence solidly in the range proposed by the original set of prosecutors. Jackson made it clear that there were still some points that had to be walked through, but that the potential sentence for Stone was already back above the 20-year range—even if no one expected that total to be handed down.
The next potential enhancement for Stone ran into a problem caused not by Barr, but by the original prosecutors. A typo in the sentencing proposal directed the judge at the wrong set of guidelines. It’s not clear how much this irritation had to do with the result, but that enhancement—which was smaller than the other two—was a win for Stone’s team. Jackson ruled that the enhancement, which had to do with the scope and planning of Stone’s obstruction, did not apply.
At that point, Jackson returned to comparing the two sets of sentencing guidelines provided by the government, with some particular commentary that the more recent guidelines, written by Barr, “didn’t seem to make sense.” The subject this time was Stone’s pretrial conduct, which included multiple instances of Stone violating a gag order and disrupting the proceedings. Once again Crabb told the judge to ignore Barr’s version and look to the original guidelines. Whether this means that Crabb, who was placed there by Barr after the other prosecutors left, was kicking back in the name of actual justice, or that it was part of a plan to simply get through this as quickly as possible so Trump could get on to the pardoning … is a momentary mystery. In any case, Jackson agreed enthusiastically that Stone deserved to be hit for his courtroom antics, which she called “intolerable.” At this point, the maximum sentence was at 27 years.
Noting this, Jackson indicated that the guidelines for the sentence suggested 70-87 months. However, she was able to deviate from those guidelines in either direction, because there were no mandatory sentences involved. That was a couple of years short of what the original government guidelines suggested because Jackson had tossed one of the sentence enhancements.
Judge Jackson continued to ask questions about the original sentencing memo. Crabb indicated that he thought there had been “miscommunication” between the U.S. attorneys and Barr. Jackson then walked Crabb through a series of statements, with him agreeing that the original proposal was not made in bad faith and did fit within DOJ guidelines. Crabb denied having any more information on the conflict. And eventually there was this amazing back-and-forth on the second filing:
Jackson: You signed it. Did you write it?
Crabb: I’m not at liberty to discuss the internal deliberations in DOJ.
Jackson: Were you directed to write it by someone else?
Crabb: I can’t answer.
In the end, Crabb said that the government was deferring to Jackson for the sentence and was certain she would be fair. Crabb continued to be the most enigmatic character of the day by ending with a declaration that the prosecution of Stone was “righteous.”
Stone’s attorneys finished up with an appeal to ignore what was happening outside the courtroom and to view Stone as “a real person.” Considering that this is Roger Stone, telling a judge to view him before a sentence might not have been the best idea. Stone’s attorney Seth Ginsburg insisted that Stone was not a "media figure" … which also seems pretty odd, since Jackson had just finished agreeing that Stone’s media appearances and social media posts merited adding two years to the potential sentence. And coming off a discussion of death threats, Ginsberg said that Stone has “many admirable qualities.”
Finally, Jackson gave Stone a chance to speak before she handed down a sentence. He did not. Jackson then announced a 20-minute break to make her decision. When she returned, she began with a declaration: "Unsurprisingly, I have a lot to say."
Jackson ordered counsels for both sides to step forward—a pretty good indication that she wasn’t happy with either team. She immediately read from a letter (unclear if this was part of the record or something public) saying that Stone was being “politically persecuted.” Jackson paused and declared, "That is most certainly not what happened here."
Before delivering her sentence, Jackson went through Stone’s actions, including how Stone made himself a part of the theft of DNC emails by trying to obtain the information for Trump, making contact with Julian Assange, and seeking to get documents from the Clinton Foundation. Rather than being instigated because someone was out to get Stone politically, the whole case began because “Roger Stone characteristically inserted himself smack in the middle of one of the most incendiary issues of the day." And Jackson made it clear that Stone was eager to involve himself, sought attention, went voluntarily to Congress, and lied to both Congress and investigators about his actions. When he was caught in those lies, he threatened Credico in an attempt to cover them up. No one made Stone get involved. No one made Stone lie. No one made Stone threaten a witness. There is no one else to blame for his actions.
In her final review, Jackson also dismissed most of the claims made by Stone’s defense—or by his supporters outside the courtroom—that any action by someone else, or the Mueller report failing to find evidence to support charges of criminal conspiracy, in any way exonerated Stone. She made it clear not only that the jury did convict Stone, but also that the evidence clearly showed he was guilty. He did try to communicate with WikiLeaks. And he sent “at least 1,500” emails and texts to Credico, then claimed there had been none. Jackson also made it clear that there was a reason that Stone, despite pressuring Credico to “take the Fifth,” had not done so himself: He knew that having a campaign adviser on the stand claiming Fifth Amendment rights would hurt the Trump campaign.
After running through each count on which Stone was convicted, Jackson said that Credico’s forgiving Stone over his threats was “nice” and said “more about Credico than the defendant.” Of Stone, she said that he “corruptly influenced and impeded the House Judiciary Committee.” Jackson paused to note that it wasn’t even a committee controlled by Democrats that Stone had thwarted. The person he lied to about having any records wasn’t Adam Schiff—it was Devin Nunes.
In spite of a letter (uh … from his step-daughter) explaining what a nice guy Stone really is and that this was all political persecution, Jackson made it clear that Stone had “cultivated an image” as a tough guy and “brawler.” In spite of the nice letters, said Jackson, "I am not passing judgment on Mr. Stone as a man. That falls to a higher authority." Nothing about this, said Jackson, was funny. It was not a prank or a joke.
Jackson returned to the sentencing guidelines. Despite saying that the original proposal was “well researched,” she also said that it was “too much.” In spite of everything that had happened, Jackson said she agreed with the second proposal—possibly the most puzzling statement of the day, considering that she had previously said that parts of that proposal “did not make sense.” However, she also stated that the defense proposal was “too weak” and that there seemed to be nothing in Stone’s health to suggest that the sentence should be reduced, especially considering all the travel he was doing while claiming that the judge was trying to violate his First Amendment rights.
“The only people who think this is easy is the people who don’t have to make the decision,” said Jackson. And before handing down the numbers, the judge declared, “He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
To drum home the importance of that statement, Jackson noted that a “member of the public” had written her and made “wholly inappropriate comments” on Stone’s sentencing—comments that she was going to ignore—and that the "dismay and disgust” about what Stone had done “should transcend both parties."
Jackson: The truth still exists. The truth still matters. Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t” poses “a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy. … The U.S. Congress cared. The government and the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys office cared. The American people cared. I cared.
Jackson finished by saying that few cases compared with Stone’s, making it difficult to find an appropriate sentence. And then she handed down the sentence: 40 months in prison. That sentence, three and a quarter years, is likely to be reduced to just over a year if Stone can resist being a jackass while in jail. So … call it three and a quarter years.
Or until Trump can tweet the word “Pardoned.”
Courtroom information sourced from Twitter play-by-play from multiple sources, but chiefly Vox reporter Andrew Prokop, CBS News Radio correspondent Bill Rehkopf, and Courthouse News report Megan Mineiro.