WASHINGTON – The sentencing of Roger Stone, President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and friend, will move forward this week despite a request from Stone’s attorneys to delay the hearing pending a request for a new trial.
Stone’s attorneys asked for a new trial last week, after Trump accused one of the jurors of “significant bias.” During a brief hearing Tuesday, Stone’s attorneys urged U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to delay the sentencing, scheduled for Thursday, arguing that the motion for a new trial must first be resolved.
But Jackson said delaying the sentencing “would not be the prudent thing to do” under the circumstances. Whatever Stone’s sentence turns out to be will not take effect until after the motion for a new trial is resolved, Jackson said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr. said the sentencing should move forward as scheduled, saying the judge has provided adequate protections to make sure Stone’s rights aren’t violated.
Stone, 67, was found guilty in November of lying to the House Intelligence Committee and obstructing its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He also was convicted of threatening a potential congressional witness.
Tuesday’s hearing comes after a contentious week for the Justice Department, as Attorney General William Barr faces allegations of political meddling in criminal cases that are tied to the president.
Last week, the Justice Department intervened to reduce its sentence recommendation for Stone, the president’s longtime friend and ally. The intervention, which came after Trump criticized the sentence recommendation, caused an uproar.
Four career prosecutors, who had recommended that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, withdrew from the case in apparent protest. One resigned from the Justice Department. Democrats called on Barr to testify before Congress and more than 2,000 former Justice Department employees signed a letter calling for Barr’s resignation.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge in the federal court in Washington, D.C., issued a statement saying “public criticism or pressure is not a factor” in how judges decide sentences.
The rare public comment came after the president attacked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over Stone’s case.
“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said.
And the Federal Judges Association, a group of more than 1,000 federal jurists, called for an emergency meeting to address growing concerns about intervention by the Justice Department’s leadership and Trump in politically sensitive cases.
The motion for a new trial came after Trump tweeted about a woman who revealed on social media that she had been the forewoman of the jury that convicted Stone.
“Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias,” Trump said last week, referring to Tomeka Hart, a former school board member in Memphis who once ran in the Democratic primary for Tennessee’s 9th congressional district. Hart had written a Facebook post defending the career prosecutors.
Stone had previously asked for a new trial based on alleged bias of another juror, a tax attorney. Stone’s lawyers alleged that the juror was biased because he or she worked with Justice Department lawyers in prosecuting tax cases. The judge denied the motion.
In arguing for the seven- to nine-year sentence for Stone, the career prosecutors said he committed a “direct and brazen attack on the rule of law” by lying to Congress and obstructing a federal investigation.
Prosecutors outlined behavior that they considered to be aggravating factors: threatening to harm a potential congressional witness, depriving the House Intelligence Committee of important documents needed in their Russia investigation, committing crimes that spanned years, posting an Instagram image of the presiding judge with a gun’s crosshair next to her head, and repeatedly violating her order not to speak publicly about the case.
In a revised sentencing memorandum, the Justice Department said the recommended punishment “would not be appropriate” for Stone. Crabb, who took over the case, did not recommend a specific sentence, though he suggested three to four years would be more in line with obstruction cases.
Stone’s defense attorneys argued the sentencing guideline for first-time offenders convicted of the same crimes is 15 to 21 months. They asked that Stone be sentenced to probation.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson