Politics /

The US Department of Justice under the direction of Attorney General William Barr has decided to intervene in the case against political consultant Roger Stone. The decision came after federal prosecutors recommended Stone serve 7 to 9 years in prison following a conviction on seven counts of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Stone’s threat to a witness during the trial provoked the prosecution to ask for increased prison time.

Justice Department Asks for Lighter Sentence

Barr⁠ – presumably under the direction of US President Donald Trump⁠ – publicly called for a lighter sentence for Stone, even after prosecutors from within his own department made their recommendation. The department formally asked a federal court for a reduction of its own recommendation, prompting all four federal attorneys to remove themselves from the case and another to completely resign from the Justice Department.

A Tuesday morning tweet from Trump called the recommended sentence “horrible and very unfair.” After Barr intervened, Trump praised him, offering congratulations for “taking charge” of the case, which Trump said probably should never have even been brought before a court. 

“Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!” Trump tweeted.

The connection to Mueller revived Trump’s vendetta against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although Mueller did not charge Trump following his investigation, citing Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president, he did ensnare numerous Trump associates and former administration officials, including Stone.

Stone’s role on the Trump campaign included serving as a go-between for the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which was encouraged to publish material Russian hackers stole from the Democratic Party. 

A senior Justice Department official told National Public Radio officials within the department were “shocked” by the recommendation, which they deemed “extreme and excessive and disproportionate.” While it is possible that other federal attorneys and investigators were taken aback by the guidance, the highly unusual and unprecedented moves by Trump and Barr to reduce it indicate that the pushback started at the top.

Stone: A Mainstay Trump Ally

Stone and Trump’s relationship dates back to the 1980s when Stone first began lobbying for Trump’s casino business. He was also one of the first high-profile political figures to urge Trump to run for presidency, first pressuring him in 1988, and he served as campaign manager for Trump’s initial attempt at securing the Reform Party nomination in the 2000 election.

When the 2016 election came around, Stone was there once again as an advisor, before he had a falling out with Trump in 2015. Stone said he quit, but Trump claimed he fired Stone. Even after severing official ties, however, Stone remained on the campaign payroll and created a pro-Trump activist group. 

Stone’s provocative nature and unfiltered words caused CNN and MSNBC to ban Stone from their networks during the campaign. He referred to one news anchor as an “entitled diva bitch,” another as “a stupid, fat negro,” and bashed the qualifications of yet another newscaster.

He also helped circulate rumors that Sen. Ted Cruz, then a presidential contender against Trump, had had five extramarital affairs. Cruz said Stone “is pulling the strings on Donald Trump. He planned the Trump campaign, he is Trump’s henchman and dirty trickster.” 

Previously, Stone also helped to inflame the birther conspiracy Trump promoted that alleged former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. 

Stone once said, “Politics is not about uniting people. It’s about dividing people.” The mantra arguably rubbed off on Trump who repeatedly disparaged immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans in his 2016 campaign.

Five Decades of Political String-Pulling

Fittingly, Stone’s political career as a behind-the-scenes operative began during the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned prior to an inevitable impeachment. Although he likely had no connection to the Watergate scandal, Stone maintained his relationship with the disgraced president after he left office and he returned in an official capacity in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. 

Often, Stone’s tactics involved shoring up state party support, particularly in the northeastern states. His main source of power in the 1980s was through lobbying where he worked with future Trump associate Paul Manafort, who was also convicted following Mueller’s investigation. 

Stone resurfaced in presidential politics during the 2004 campaign of George W. Bush. Stone allegedly forged the Killian memos that indicated Bush did not fulfill his military obligations while serving in the Texas Air National Guard. At the time, Stone was curiously working on the campaign for Democratic candidate Al Sharpton. Some observers speculated he was posing as a friend to sabotage Sharpton’s campaign in order to ensure a Republican victory.

Everyone is Crooked, Except the Convicted Stone

Following Barr’s interference in Stone’s sentencing, Democratic Congressional leaders called on him to testify and he agreed. He will appear before the House Judiciary Committee March 31.

For his part, Trump denied he asked the Justice Department to reconsider its sentencing guideline. However, he did comment on a tweet that suggested he pardon both Stone. 

“I don’t want to say yet,” Trump said when asked about the idea. 

He called the federal prosecutors who led the case “corrupt people” and said “They ought to go back to school and learn. Because I’ll tell you, the way they treated people, nobody should be treated like that. Frankly they out to apologize to him.” 

Trump also lashed out at Democrats, calling them “crooked” and “vicious.”

Ultimately, Judge Amy Berman Jackson will have the final say in the sentencing. 

Trump also had a tweet about Manafort’s sentencing by Jackson, expressing sympathy for his situation: “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”