Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone has unexpectedly dropped the appeal of his seven federal felony convictions for seeking to thwart a House investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Stone’s lawyers submitted a notice to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit withdrawing the appeal Monday night, about a month after President Donald Trump spared Stone a 40-month prison term and a $20,000 fine by commuting his sentence.
The court submission came less than an hour before a midnight deadline Stone’s attorneys faced to file their first brief laying out their grounds for challenging Stone’s convictions and seeking a new trial.
The move also came shortly after Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he was planning to grant a pardon Tuesday to someone “very, very important.” The president did not identify the clemency recipient, but said it was not former national security adviser Michael Flynn or former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
In February, Trump said he was not inclined to get involved in Stone’s case and believed Stone had “a very good chance of exoneration.”
“I'm not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out," the president said then. "I think that is the best thing to do. Because I would love to see Roger exonerated, and I would love to see it happen. Because I personally think that he was treated very unfairly."
In a statement posted on his website, StoneColdTruth.com, Stone said he had decided there was little to be gained by pressing on with an appeal.
“It is time for me to move on with my life with my family, friends, and supporters. I regret not going forward with the appeal to fully expose all that happened, with the hope that by doing so, I could help prevent it from happening to anyone else ever again; but I had to decide based on what is best for me and my family,” Stone wrote. “The political taint that exists in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, from the prosecutors to the judge to the jury pool, is so deep and abiding that the possibility of achieving a just result on the merits is as nonexistent as it was when this process played out the first time.”
Stone did not mention the possibility of a pardon but did say he was “eternally grateful” to Trump for the commutation.
A lawyer for Stone, David Schoen, said Stone concluded there was no practical benefit to pursuing the appeal.
“The nutshell reason is that Mr. Stone concluded [that] the judicial process at least insofar as his case is concerned has become too politicized for him to have any confidence that he would get a fair hearing in the court of appeals and if he did and were to win his appeal he would go right back to the same trial judge who he and his original lawyers concluded would never give him a fair trial,” Schoen told POLITICO.
“Mr. Stone just could not put himself through that again — and that would have been the best-case scenario,” the attorney said, adding that a ruling last month rejecting his bid to delay his sentence signaled the frosty reception he was likely to get. “Pursuing the appeal, especially at considerable time [and] expense, seemed futile to him. That seems like a reasonable conclusion.”
Schoen did not discuss Stone’s prospects for a pardon but said the decision to drop his challenges to his conviction was not coordinated with the White House or anyone else. The attorney, who was brought on specifically for the appeal, called the decision disappointing.
“It is a shame. He had some compelling issues for appeal that went right to the heart of constitutional fair trial rights,” Schoen said.
A jury convicted Stone last November of all seven charges initially filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office: five felony counts of lying to congressional investigators, one count of obstructing a congressional probe and one count of witness tampering.
However, Stone’s defense complained bitterly about the fairness of the trial and of the judge, Amy Berman Jackson. A key complaint, repeatedly echoed by Trump, was that the forewoman of the jury was a Democratic activist who had been critical of the Trump administration and once ran for Congress in Tennessee.
But Jackson turned down Stone’s request for a new trial. After holding a hearing, she said there was no evidence the forewoman had lied, nor that she played any outsize role in the unanimous jury verdicts. The judge also noted that Stone’s defense team had the opportunity to research her background before the trial and failed to do so.
After Trump commuted Stone’s sentence last month, the White House issued a statement that slammed the prosecution and challenged the fairness of the trial.
“Not only was Mr. Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing a case that never should have existed, and arrested in an operation that never should have been approved, but there were also serious questions about the jury in the case,” the statement said. “The forewoman of his jury, for example, concealed the fact that she is a member of the so-called liberal 'resistance' to the Trump Presidency. In now-deleted tweets, this activist-juror vividly and openly attacked President Trump and his supporters.”
The statement also said Stone would pursue his appeal.
“He maintains his innocence and has stated that he expects to be fully exonerated by the justice system. Mr. Stone, like every American, deserves a fair trial and every opportunity to vindicate himself before the courts. The President does not wish to interfere with his efforts to do so,” the White House said.