How Roger Stone's sentencing became a humiliating travesty for the Justice Department
On Thursday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced longtime Trump adviser and Nixon-era dirty trickster Roger Stone to 40 months in prison for his conviction on seven counts, including perjury and obstruction. However, Stone hasn’t gone directly to jail. Instead, he’s gone straight to appeal, where some other judge will have to review the overwhelming evidence—including Stone threatening to kill a witness’ dog.
The day ended with Stone strolling out with a sentence exactly half of what the Department of Justice had been recommending a month ago. That may have been inevitable, as Jackson made it clear that she regarded the sentencing guidelines for these white-collar crimes to be too high. But that didn’t stop several moments of the hearing from demonstrating just what it means when the Justice Department declares that it just doesn’t give a #$@! about justice.
Coming into the hearing, Judge Jackson found herself in possession of two different sentencing proposals from the DOJ. One was the proposal which had been assembled by the team of U.S. attorneys who had prosecuted the cases from the beginning. That proposal looked at the 27 years maximum sentence that went with Stone’s charges, considered all the factors — including the way he had repeatedly lied to investigators and attempted to disrupt the court proceedings — and determined that an appropriate sentence was between seven and nine years.
The second proposal was undoubtedly the personal work of Attorney General William Barr, who inserted himself into the case specifically because the case was “of interest” to Donald Trump. Which, if anything, should have been a sign that Barr should stay far away. However, Barr’s version of the proposal downplayed Stone’s crimes, ignored his actions since the start of the case as well as the repeat nature of his offenses, and ended up with no proposed sentence at all. Barr didn’t quite go to the point of agreeing with Stone’s proposals that he deserves no punishment at all, but it was the next best thing.
With the resignation of all four of the U.S. attorneys who wrote the first proposal, defending the government’s position at the sentencing hearing was left up to newly appointed prosecutor John Crabb. It was also Crabb whose signature was at the bottom of the second proposal. Which only made it that much stranger that in Crabb’s appearance in the courtroom he frequently pointed away from the proposal carrying his signature and told Judge Jackson she should really look at what the original attorneys had written. This was particularly true after Jackson went through part of the second version and declared that it “made no sense.”
Crabb also pushed for several of the “enhancements” — additional years of potential sentence from the circumstances around the offenses — even though those enhancements were not included in the draft proposal that he had signed. But when push came to shove at the end of the morning, Crabb didn’t defend the sentence put forward by the prosecution team. Instead, he fell back on the blandest possible view of the recommendation from Barr—that the Justice Department was simply throwing up its hands and leaving the decision to Jackson.
That led to genuinely bizarre exchanges as Jackson attempted to extract from Crabb why the Justice Department had changed its position to no position, and exactly who had authored those changes.
Jackson: You signed it. Did you write it?
Crabb: I’m not at liberty to discuss the internal deliberations in DOJ.
Jackson: Were you directed to write it by someone else?
Crabb: I can’t answer.
So a U.S. attorney stood in front of a federal judge to say that, even though his name was attached to a sentencing proposal in a high-profile case, he would not tell the judge who actually authored that proposal. And he would not explain why changes had been made from the original proposal.
In another instance, reported by The Washington Post, Judge Jackson seemed to give up on getting an actual answer from Crabb. And her commentary was blazing.
Jackson: “I fear that you know less about this case than possibly anybody else in the courtroom. What is the government’s position today?”
Crabb bumbled through a not-at-all-reassuring explanation that there had been a “miscommunication” between the prosecution team and Barr over what was “appropriate” in the eyes of the attorney general.
“You know less about this case than possibly anybody else in the courtroom,” is not exactly the kind of statement that a federal judge usually throws at a U.S. attorney. But then, Jackson’s disgust with the last second antics from Barr — and the matching demands from Trump — was palpable.
When Jackson finished her announcement of the sentence by saying that “The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” she was doing more than simply upholding justice. Because she took those lines from the closing statement of the original prosecution team. It was another message to Barr and Trump that Judge Jackson was aware of exactly what they were doing … and how far it was from truth.