Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone’s bid for a delay in sentencing was unsuccessful Tuesday, and he is expected to be sentenced Thursday by a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
Stone was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Trump-Russia investigation and convicted in federal court of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
President Trump has been waging a multi-front campaign, often through Twitter broadsides, to help Stone get a lighter sentence. Stone’s lawyers want a sentence of probation.
A firestorm of controversy has been ignited by Trump’s attacks on prosecutors, investigators, the judge, and the jury forewoman. Here’s a brief review, compiled wire service and major media reports, of what’s been going on:
Trump criticized the recommended sentence for Stone – and the Justice Department made an unusual reversal
On Feb. 10, career Justice Department prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years for the 67-year-old Stone.
Trump tweeted early the next day that the sentencing recommendation amounted to a “very horrible and unfair situation.”
Hours later, in what legal experts said was an unusual move, the Justice Department intervened in the case, calling for lighter punishment, saying in a new court filing that the previous sentencing recommendation was “excessive and unwarranted” and recommending something “far less” severe.
Trump made no secret of the fact that he wanted a lighter sentence for Stone
Trump told reporters after the Justice Department’s abrupt about-face that “Roger Stone was treated very badly and so were many other people. And their lives were destroyed.”
Asked if he was considering a pardon for Stone, Trump said, “I don’t want to say that yet. But I tell you what: People were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people.”
He also congratulated Attorney General William Barr in a tweet for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought” – and later suggested that, as president, he had the right to interfere in a criminal case “but I have so far chosen not to!” Even Barr appeared unwilling to say he could be ordered to investigate someone for political reasons.
The reversal stirred controversy
The four career prosecutors who had recommended the tougher sentence for Stone quit the case in protest on Feb. 11, though the headlines were initially somewhat muffled by the news coming out of the New Hampshire primary.
Democrats cried foul, and legal experts said the events raised questions about whether the Justice Department, rather than maintaining its traditional independence in terms of investigations and prosecutions, might be subject to influence from the White House.
“The power to prosecute is an extraordinary power. It’s the power to essentially take away people’s liberty and, in some, cases their lives,” said Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham University Law School. “When the state uses that power, it’s important that it use that power within the bounds of the law and not arbitrarily and not to serve the interests of some individual.”
“Prosecutors have a pivotal role in maintaining the rule of law because they are the officials who bring actions to enforce the law,” said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at the Washington University School of Law. “If prosecutors and judges do not carry out the law, the rule of law will fail.”
Attorney General William Barr said in an interview that Trump had “never asked me to do anything about a criminal case” and, taking an unusual step away from his usual lockstep support of Trump, also said Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
The uproar continued through the weekend
Despite Barr’s comments in the interview, more than 2,000 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials on Sunday have called on Barr to resign in an open letter posted online.
The signers said they welcomed Barr’s comments but his “actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than words.”
“Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies,” the letter said.
Trump has also attacked the judge in the case
Hours after his original tweet on Feb. 10 criticizing the prosecutors’ recommendation for Roger Stone’s sentence, Trump also sideswiped US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will sentence Stone.
“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” the president wrote, sharing a tweet that named Jackson as the judge who sentenced Manafort
The implication of the tweet was false. Jackson sentenced Manafort, but she did not have any authority over the conditions of his confinement.
The chief judge of the court where Jackson sits issued a statement last week saying, “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor” in judges’ sentencing decisions.
The head of the Federal Judges Association, a voluntary association of around 1,100 life-term federal judges, is also taking the extraordinary step of calling an emergency meeting to address the intervention in politically sensitive cases by Trump and Barr, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Trump continued his campaign to help Stone Tuesday by questioning a juror and calling for a new trial
Despite Barr’s comments that Trump’s tweeting was making it hard for him to do his job, Trump on Tuesday twice appeared to quote in tweets a Fox News legal commentator who argued that Stone should get a new trial based on alleged bias by the jury forewoman.
… And questioning the entire Trump-Russia investigation
The controversial, divisive president — who was impeached but not removed for the separate Ukraine scandal — also criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into links between his 2016 campaign and Russia, which led to the charges against Stone. He reverted to a familiar catch phrase in deriding Mueller’s investigation.
“Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation... ....is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out," he tweeted.
“The whole deal was a total SCAM. If I wasn’t President, I’d be suing everyone all over the place... ....BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!” he tweeted.
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