WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday sentenced President Donald Trump’s long-time adviser Roger Stone to three years and four months in prison and said his lies to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election amounted to a threat to American democracy.
In a stern lecture during an hours-long sentencing hearing for the veteran Republican operative, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson also delivered an implicit rebuke to Trump, who has attacked her along with the jury and prosecutors in the high-profile case.
“There was nothing unfair, phony or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution,” Jackson said, citing words that the Republican president has used.
Stone’s lawyer had asked that he get no prison time. The 67-year-old Stone, who has been a friend and adviser to Trump for decades, was convicted on Nov. 15 on all seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
“He was not prosecuted – as some have complained – for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” Jackson said.
“The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” Jackson said. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our fundamental institutions – to the very foundation of our democracy.”
The judge also said Stone “knew exactly what he was doing” when he posted an image on social media last year that positioned a gun’s cross-hairs over her head.
“The defendant engaged in threatening and intimidating conduct toward the court,” Jackson said.
“This is intolerable to the administration of justice,” she added.
Stone, who still has a sealed pending motion requesting a new trial, declined to speak at his sentencing hearing. He stood at a lectern in the courtroom as the judge announced the sentence. After leaving, Stone told reporters, “I have nothing to say.” In a chaotic scene outside the courthouse, Stone walked through a throng of people with a slight smile on his face and climbed into a waiting vehicle.
Jackson’s sentence fell well short of the seven to nine years that were initially recommended by the original prosecutors in the case before they were overruled by the Justice Department after Trump complained publicly. Those prosecutors quit the case. The judge said such a sentence was “unnecessary” for Stone, who has no prior criminal record.
“This was still a very substantial sentence, especially for a non-violent, first time offender of his age,” said Mark Allenbaugh, a consultant who formerly worked for the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Defense attorney Seth Ginsberg said Stone’s career as a self-described “dirty trickster” overshadowed other aspects of a spiritual man who has served as a mentor, loves animals and is devoted to his family.
“Mr. Stone is, in fact, not simply that public persona, but a human being,” he said.
Stone was convicted of lying to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, the website that released damaging emails about Trump’s 2016 Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.
The judge noted that Stone was not charged with or convicted of having any role in conspiring with Russia. But the judge said Stone’s effort to obstruct a congressional investigation into Russian election meddling “was deliberate, planned – not one isolated incident.” The investigators were not some “secret anti-Trump cabal,” the judge said, but members of Congress from both parties at the time when the committee was controlled by the president’s fellow Republicans.
Stone’s career as a Republican operative has stretched from the Watergate scandal era of the early 1970s to Trump’s campaign four years ago.
Wearing sunglasses and a dark fedora, Stone walked arm-in-arm with his wife and was surrounded by an entourage of family, friends and lawyers as he arrived at the courthouse. He strode past a giant inflatable rat dressed as Trump with a red tie and yellow hair – a common prop in street protests – and a sign calling for his pardon.
One onlooker shouted: “Traitor!”
Stone, known for his elegant attire, was clad in a dark gray pinstripe suit with a polka dot handkerchief in the pocket.
The charges against Stone stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. Stone was one of several Trump associates charged in Mueller’s inquiry.
The witness who Stone was convicted of tampering with was a radio personality named Randy Credico who had been summoned to testify before Congress and speak with the FBI about Russian election interference. In emails and texts, Stone told Credico among other things: “Prepare to die,” “You’re a rat. A stoolie,” and “Stonewall it.”
“The defendant’s memorandum refers to this as ‘banter’ which it hardly is,” Jackson said.
TRUMP POSTS ON TWITTER
As the hearing got underway, Trump complained on Twitter that the Justice Department should have prosecuted the former head of the FBI, James Comey, and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe, for what the president said was lying. The Justice Department investigated but opted not to prosecute both men.
“FAIRNESS?” Trump asked on Twitter.
Trump, who on Tuesday granted clemency to prominent convicted white-collar criminals including financier Michael Milken and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, has sidestepped questions about whether he will pardon Stone. “We’re going to see what happens,” Trump said on Tuesday.
Trump, emboldened after his Senate acquittal in his impeachment trial, has attacked the prosecutors, jurors and judge in the case. After prosecutors made their sentencing recommendation last week, Trump blasted them as “corrupt” and railed against this “miscarriage of justice.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr then intervened and the Justice Department overruled the sentencing recommendation. Congressional Democrats have accused Trump and Barr of politicizing the U.S. criminal justice system and threatening the rule of law.
Jackson pointed out that the Justice Department had not actually withdrawn the prosecutors’ initial recommendation, and had sharp words for John Crabb, the prosecutor newly installed on the case.
“I fear you know less about the case … than just about every other person in this courtroom apart from the defense attorney who just joined this team,” Jackson told him.
Crabb declined to say whether he wrote the court filing that reversed the original sentencing recommendation.
Stone, who has labeled himself an “agent provocateur” and famously has the face of former President Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, was arrested in January 2019 in a pre-dawn FBI raid on his Florida home.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Will Dunham and David Gregorio