Judge Amy Berman Jackson, during Roger Stone’s sentencing hearing, made some eye-opening comments that I want to highlight. Some of it had to do with the Justice Department’s extraordinary reversal, and her desire to put the lawyers on the hot seat as a result. From the account in the New York Times:
“As I understand it, you are representing the United States of America,” she told John Crabb Jr., an assistant United States attorney, with a trace of sarcasm. “I fear you know less about the case, saw less of the testimony and exhibits than just about every other person in this courtroom.”
“Is there anything you would like to say about why you are the one standing here?” she asked.
Cold as ice. The story says “Mr. Crabb defended the prosecution as a ‘righteous’ effort to hold Mr. Stone to account for ‘serious’ crimes.” Extra Toady Points to Mr. Crabb for using the same word to describe the prosecution (“righteous”) that Bill Barr had used in his interview with ABC News.
Judge Jackson also said that Stone was prosecuted for “covering for” Trump:
In biting tones, Judge Jackson dismissed any notion that the case lacked merit.
She said that Mr. Stone hindered a congressional inquiry of national importance because the truth would have embarrassed the president and his 2016 campaign. The documentary evidence alone, she said, proved that Mr. Stone deceived the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to obtain information from WikiLeaks about Democratic emails that had been stolen by Russian operatives who sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” the judge said. In government inquiries, she added, “the truth still exists. The truth still matters.” Otherwise, she said, “everyone loses.”
This does not mean that she is saying Trump conspired with the Russian government in a manner that is prosecutable, but it does mean that the Trump campaign (specifically Steve Bannon and Rick Gates) had contacts with Wikileaks, through Stone and his confederates. And Stone wanted to cover that up, at least on behalf of Donald Trump’s political well being, if not because he thought a crime had been committed.
Judge Jackson also made it clear that the original recommendation was entirely consistent with DoJ policy. And the prosecutor agreed:
I don’t have time this morning to do a detailed post about how the Justice Department backed off of its revised memo on the Roger Stone sentencing in favor of positions taken in the initial memo that so upset Bill Barr and Donald Trump. Maybe this weekend if I feel motivated and there’s interest. Suffice it to quote from the linked Hill article:
On Thursday … Justice Department prosecutor John Crabb, a recent addition to Stone’s case, defended the original memorandum and a key argument for imposing a stiffer sentence.
“It was done in good faith,” Crabb told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, before she handed down Stone’s sentence.
. . . .
Crabb also supported a key portion of the original sentencing recommendation that was based in part on Stone’s conduct toward Randy Credico, a comedian and radio host who testified at the trial.
. . . .
[O]n Thursday, Crabb told Jackson that the Justice Department stood behind its initial judgment that the threat against Credico should increase the severity of Stone’s sentence.
“Our position is this enhancement applies,” Crabb said. “And we ask the court to apply it.”
That enhancement was the key enhancement that increased the original recommendation by several years. Following two livetweet feeds of the proceedings, I was stunned to see this concession. It seems that the Justice Department is trying to regain the credibility it has blown through this fiasco. Not so fast, fellas. That’s going to take a lot of time, a new Attorney General, a new President, and even more time still.
Anyone who says the lower sentence “vindicates” Trump or Barr either didn’t read the original memo, has their thinking clouded by partisan views, or both. I predicted 30 months purely based on the original memo, and that was low. The original memo made it clear that there were countervailing factors. It was not difficult to read between the lines and Judge Jackson made it clear that she had not discounted the original memo — which, she noted, had never actually been withdrawn by the government.
All in all, a tawdry episode that will continue to repeat itself as long as Donald Trump is the president. He can’t leave fast enough.