The flap over the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone is landing in the lap of a federal judge, who on Thursday is scheduled to decide the punishment meted out to the longtime Republican operative and close ally of President Trump who got caught up in the Russia collusion probe.
Whether U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson goes with the original recommendation of seven to nine years in prison, opts for the lighter prison time suggested by Attorney General William P. Barr or decides on something in the middle, it won’t be the last word in the politically charged case. Stone is petitioning for a new trial, and a possible presidential pardon looms over the proceedings.
“The reality is that Roger Stone is going to challenge whatever Judge Jackson does in terms of sentencing and how she resolves his request or a new trial on appeal,” said Carl Tobias, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Richmond. “I don’t know that she can prevent it by way of writing an order that justifies her conclusions on both issues.”
A Washington jury convicted Stone, 67, of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering as he thwarted lawmakers’ probe into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.
Although he is facing up to 50 years in prison, the typical length for similar offenses is three to four years.
Stone’s case has generated a myriad of headlines since Mr. Trump last week called the federal prosecutors on the case “corrupt” after they recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. Mr. Barr overrode their recommendation, slamming it as “excessive.” The four prosecutors abruptly left the case in protest.
The fallout from the sentencing row forced Mr. Barr to go on television and rebuke Mr. Trump for tweeting about the case. Although the president agreed the tweets make his attorney general’s job harder, he hasn’t backed away from commenting about the case.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to be silenced about the Stone case sparked reports that Mr. Barr was considering resigning in frustration. On Tuesday, the Justice Department dismissed such talk as “Beltway rumors.”
The Stone case is not expected to simmer down after his sentencing.
“I imagine the judge is going to sentence Stone within the recommended sentencing guidelines and then we’ll see what happens,” said Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project, which advocates for Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees. “I think the president is laying the groundwork to pardon Roger Stone or at least commute or reduce his sentence if it is too harsh.”
Mr. Trump went on a clemency spree this week, pardoning or commuting the sentences of 11 convicted felons.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, ex-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and financier Michael Milken were among the high-profile individuals who received mercy from Mr. Trump.
Yet Mr. Trump remained mum on whether he would consider a pardon for Stone. He made it clear, though, that he was sympathetic to Stone’s plight.
“You’re going to see what happens. I think he’s been treated unfairly,” Mr. Trump told reporters.
Without a pardon, Stone’s bid for a new trial could drag out the case. Judge Jackson said Tuesday she would weigh the request and Stone wouldn’t have to serve his sentence until she makes a decision.
Questions about what comes next likely won’t weigh on Judge Jackson’s sentencing decision, Mr. Tobias said.
“My sense is that Judge Jackson will try to move the case forward,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen with Trump or on appeal or both, but I don’t think she will forestall a ruling because she thinks it will be academic or irrelevant.”