WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors are expected to back away from a stiff prison sentence recommended for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally, Roger Stone, a Justice Department official said Tuesday, hours after the president condemned the recommendation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. In a strongly worded court filing Monday afternoon, attorneys said Stone had committed a “direct and brazen attack on the rule of law” by “consciously, repeatedly, and flagrantly” obstructing a federal investigation by lying to Congress.
By Tuesday afternoon — hours after the president criticized the sentence recommendation on Twitter — federal prosecutors appeared to be reversing course. A new recommendation was expected in court Tuesday, the Justice Department official said.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, characterized the recommendation by District of Columbia prosecutors as “extreme, excessive and disproportionate” to Stone’s crimes. The official said the recommendation differed from what prosecutors briefed Justice Department officials on prior to the filing.
There was no discussion about the matter with the White House, the official said.
In an early morning tweet Tuesday, Trump called the nine-year sentence recommendation a “miscarriage of justice,” claiming that the “real crimes” were committed by the “other side.”
Stone, who’s scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20, was found guilty in November of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
Stone, 67, is the latest Trump ally to be convicted in cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein said a revised sentencing filing would be unusual, given its proximity to Trump’s criticism of the initial recommendation.
“The proper vehicle for a president who disagrees with a prosecution or sentence is a pardon or commutation, not a tweet,” Weinstein said.
“In my experience, it is very unusual for the government to file a revised sentencing recommendation after setting out their position in a thorough pleading that was filed after the defense and probation office had announced their position,” Weinstein said. “It was also unusual for DOJ to now have direct input in a case that had been handled by a U.S. attorney’s office.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Stone’s convictions stem from his actions in 2016, when he sought to create back-channel communications with WikiLeaks to find out about stolen emails that were damaging to then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and to push for their release.
Stone repeatedly lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts, falsely denying that he talked to the Trump campaign about them. He also urged a possible congressional witness to either lie or scuttle his testimony. The committee at that time was investigating Russia’s election interference.
Defense attorneys argued that the guideline for first-time offenders convicted of these crimes is 15 to 21 months. They asked for a lighter sentence than that.
“Roger Stone is far more than the persona he projects in the media. As those who know him well attest, he is a man devoted to his friends and family, but also someone who has repeatedly extended himself well beyond the normal range to assist virtual strangers,” his attorneys wrote.
Stone’s attorneys also argued that he should not be punished for his behavior after he was indicted in January 2019, saying his longstanding problems with anxiety were “heightened” while his case was pending.
Stone repeatedly violated a gag order preventing him from speaking publicly about the case. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson later banned him from using social media.