Judge to proceed with Roger Stone's sentencing, will consider motion for new trial

Pete Williams

The judge overseeing the trial of Roger Stone, the Republican campaign veteran and longtime Trump friend, said Tuesday that she will not delay the sentencing, scheduled for Thursday morning.

In open court in Washington, D.C., U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson spoke by phone with prosecutors and Stone's attorneys about a recently filed defense motion for a new trial based on a claim that one of the jurors was biased.

One of Stone's attorneys, Seth Ginsberg, said the motion "goes to the heart of the case" and urged Jackson to delay sentencing until a hearing can be scheduled on the motion.

But Jackson refused.

"We've already put off sentencing once," she said, adding that "it makes sense to proceed, since there's no harm to the defense," a reference to the fact that if she were to grant the motion for a new trial, the sentence would be set aside anyway.

The judge said she would delay the legal effect of any sentence to give Stone's attorneys time to pursue their motion for a new trial.

Stone's lawyers allege that one of the jurors was biased against President Donald Trump based on comments she posted on Facebook well before the trial. The defense attorneys knew of her history as a Democratic politician but did not object to her during jury selection.

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A federal jury found Stone guilty in November of lying to a House committee about his efforts to find out what WikiLeaks planned to do with emails dealing with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign that were hacked by Russians. The jury concluded that Stone also urged a radio host to lie to Congress about their WikiLeaks conversations.

Career prosecutors last week initially recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. But Attorney General William Barr intervened and directed the government to submit a new court filing, saying a three- to four-year sentence would be "more in line with the typical sentences imposed" in similar cases. That prompted four career prosecutors to take themselves off the case in protest. One of them resigned from the Justice Department altogether.

The reversal came only hours after Trump tweeted that the original sentencing recommendation presented "a horrible and very unfair situation."

Trump continued to attack the prosecution Tuesday, again alleging juror bias and calling for a new trial.

"The whole deal was a total SCAM," Trump said of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which gave rise to the charges against Stone. "If I wasn't President, I'd be suing everyone all over the place ... BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!"

Barr insisted that he acted on his own and was unaware of the president's tweet until after he directed the change. But the attorney general's intervention prompted more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials to call for his resignation.

In an open letter, the Justice Department veterans said the government's legal decisions "must be impartial and insulated from political influence." Criminal prosecutions, they said, must be carried out "free from partisan consideration."

The original recommendation said a sentence of seven to nine years would "accurately reflect the seriousness" of Stone's crimes "and promote respect for the law." Stone's lies deterred Congress from subpoenaing evidence that could have documented his efforts to get an inside track on what WikiLeaks was planning, and he made threats against the talk show host, the filing said. After Stone was arrested, he disobeyed the judge's instructions to refrain from commenting on the case, conduct that should also enhance the sentence, it said.

But in the revised document, the Justice Department noted that the radio host said he never felt threatened, that it was unclear whether Stone's comments had any effect on the trial and that a shorter sentence would be similar to punishments given to others convicted of lying to Congress. The filing did not actually recommend a sentence but said the original suggestion "could be considered excessive and unwarranted."

Amid the fallout over his action, Barr leveled a rare criticism of the president, saying last week that Trump's tweets about Justice Department matters "make it impossible" for him to do his job — a caution that the president has repeatedly ignored since then, including on Tuesday.

Stone, a friend of Trump's for more than 30 years who served as an adviser to his 2016 campaign, called himself the victim of a political prosecution. He was arrested a year ago and charged with misleading the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 about his efforts to find out when WikiLeaks would be releasing emails hacked from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign.

The charges were the last to be filed by Mueller's team before its investigation ended. The prosecution was carried on by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington.