In a 1:48 am tweet Tuesday, President Donald Trump decried federal prosecutors’ recommendation that a judge to sentence Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone to seven-to-nine years in prison. Within hours, Justice Department sources indicated that prosecutors would reverse course and instead propose a shorter prison sentence for Stone, according to several news outlets.
The Justice Department’s senior leadership now believes that the initial recommendation was excessive and not proportional to Stone’s crimes, Bloomberg reported, citing an unnamed official.
This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! https://t.co/rHPfYX6Vbv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
In November, a Washington, DC, jury found Stone guilty on five counts of making false statements to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. These crimes related to statements Stone made in 2017 and 2018 as he attempted to conceal his efforts—undertaken during the 2016 campaign—to glean information about Wikileaks’ plans for releasing hacked Democratic emails.
Prosecutors’ said in a sentencing memo that Stone deserves a stiff sentence, in part because his crimes involved obstructing a House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “It is against this backdrop that Stone’s crimes—his obstruction, lies, and witness tampering—must be judged,” the memo says.
Trump’s tweet may also signal his intention to pardon Stone.
Stone has previously pleaded for a Trump pardon. On the final day of Stone’s trial, Alex Jones, the far-right conspiracy theorist, read on his Infowars show a message Stone had apparently sent to Jones. “I appeal to the president to pardon me because to do so would be an action that would show these corrupt courts that they’re not going to get away with persecuting people for their free speech or for the crime of getting the president elected,” Stone said, according to Jones. Prosecutors cited this message in their sentencing memo, arguing that it resulted from Stone violating a gag order imposed by the judge.
Trump has a significant personal interest in Stone’s plight. The men have known each other for decades, and Stone worked for Trump’s campaign in 2015 before he was pushed out under disputed circumstances.
But more significantly, Stone may be in position to shed light on claims that Trump made to special counsel Robert Mueller—claims that, we now know, were probably false. In written responses to Mueller’s office, Trump stated, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.” But evidence in the trial appeared to show that Stone had communicated directly with Trump about WikiLeaks during the campaign. Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide who cooperated with Mueller’s office, testified that he overheard Trump speaking to Stone on the phone on July 31, 2016, apparently about WikiLeaks’ plans to release Democratic emails. After that call—which came nine days after WikiLeaks had dumped tens of thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails onto the internet—Trump “indicated that more information would be coming,” Gates told the court.
There is no chance the Justice Department will indict Trump, while he remains in office, for lying to Mueller. And odds are long that prosecutors would go after Trump for a supposed memory lapse, however implausible, after he leaves office. But House Democrats have indicated an interest in whether Trump misled Mueller. House general counsel Douglas Letter said in a November court hearing that congressional Democrats wanted to review grand jury material gathered by Mueller, which the Justice Department refused to hand over to Congress, in part to judge whether Trump lied to the special counsel. “Was the President not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” Letter asked in a hearing before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Prior to his indictment, Stone pledged that he would not cooperate against Trump, a vow that that drew praise from the president, who lauded Stone for his “guts.” So far, Stone has stuck to that promise. Democrats’ interest in the matter shows why Trump might want to help his old consigliere.