Roger Stone, a longtime associate of President Donald Trump, was sentenced in federal court Thursday to 40 months in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson also fined Stone $20,000.
“He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president," Jackson said. "He was prosecuted for covering up for the president."
The sentence will be put on hold while the judge considers Stone's motion for a new trial.
Stone's case received renewed attention when federal prosecutors quit after Attorney General William Barr overruled their initial sentencing recommendation after it was filed. The move came after Trump had criticized the recommendation, leading to accusations of political interference in the case. Trump has continued to tweet about Stone's sentencing despite Barr warning such actions make his job "impossible." Here's what else you should know about Stone and his case.
Who is Roger Stone?
Roger Stone is a longtime Republican operative and associate of President Trump who’s been credited with pioneering modern political mudslinging.
Born in Connecticut, Stone said he first learned the value of misinformation in politics when his elementary school held a mock election and he convinced students to vote for John F. Kennedy by claiming Richard Nixon planned on introducing school on Saturdays.
The self-proclaimed “agent provocateur” and “dirty trickster” got his start in political subterfuge as a teen working for President Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972. Stone dispatched operatives to spy on the campaign of George McGovern, the Democratic nominee. Stone said in the 2017 Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone” that he also made a donation in the name of the “Young Socialist Alliance” to the campaign of Nixon’s primary Republican rival and asked for a receipt, which he promptly sent to the press to show that Pete McCloskey was a left-wing candidate. The scams came to light during the Watergate hearings where Stone made a cameo as the youngest person to testify before a grand jury in the scandal that forced Nixon to resign.
Stone later got a tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back “as a reminder that in life when you get knocked down, you have to get up and keep fighting,” he explained in the Netflix documentary.
Stone showed his own resilience by helping launch in 1975 the National Conservative Political Action Committee — a precursor to today’s SuperPACs — before opening a political consulting and lobbying firm with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and GOP strategist Lee Atwater. Stone counts the successful presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush among his victories.
A friend of Trump's since the late 1970s, Stone has also claimed credit for persuading Trump to get into politics. Like Stone, Trump has a penchant for underhanded tactics, making bold, unsubstantiated claims and pushing conspiracy theories.
“The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring,” Stone is often quoted saying.
Stone served as an adviser on Trump’s presidential campaign but the two parted ways in 2015. Trump claimed he fired Stone while Stone maintained he resigned over the then-candidate’s controversial comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Still, the two longtime friends remained close during the 2016 campaign and Stone continued to be one of Trump’s most loyal allies.
Stone told the New Yorker in 2008 his motto is, “Attack, attack, attack — never defend...Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”
What Did Roger Stone Do to Get Convicted?
Stone was indicted in January 2018 as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Stone was accused of tampering with a witness, obstructing the House investigation and lying to Congress and the FBI about his attempts to connect with WikiLeaks to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton.
During Trump’s 2016 bid for the White House, Stone was an informal advisor to the campaign after being fired from his official role as political strategist. He found his way back into the campaign's inner circle by purporting to have ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. According to testimony from Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates, Stone told him in April 2016 -- three months before WikiLeaks published the first batch of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee -- that "WikiLeaks would be submitting or dropping information" that would help the Trump campaign.
The email dump lent credence to Stone’s claims and, eager to connect with WikiLeaks, the Trump campaign saw Stone as its “access point,” according to testimony from Steve Bannon, who served as the campaign's chief executive.
Gates testified at Stone's criminal trial that Stone often briefed Trump and top campaign officials of WikiLeaks' plans to publish more hacked emails. Gates recalled a July phone call between Trump and Stone, in which the then-Republican nominee for president told him after hanging up with Stone that “more information is coming.”
Trump Associates Indicted or Convicted During His Presidency
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By the end of the summer, Stone was publicly claiming in interviews that he was in contact with Assange through an intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans. When later asked by the House Intelligence Committee who he was referring to in those remarks, Stone claimed it was comedian and radio host Randy Credico, who had scored an interview with Assange in August 2016 when Assange was avoiding prosecution by sheltering in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He also denied to House investigators ever discussing with the Trump campaign information he received related to WikiLeaks.
However, Stone’s own text messages and emails obtained during the investigation contradicted his congressional testimony.
After Credico was contacted by Congress, Stone pressed him to either refuse to testify or back up his false claims, repeatedly telling him to “do a Frank Pentangeli,” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II” who lies before Congress, text messages show. Stone also threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was “going to take that dog away from you.”
Credico testified it was only after he interviewed Assange on Aug. 26, 2016, that Stone began asking him to put him in touch with Assange. Credico said he told Stone, who had already claimed in public interviews to have a back-channel to Assange, to work through his own intermediary.
Prosecutors say Stone's intermediary to Assange was actually conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. In late July 2016, Stone emailed Corsi asking him to get in touch with Assange to try to obtain unreleased emails WikiLeaks possessed about Clinton.
"Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging," Corsi responded eight days later. "Time to let more than [Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton].”
It was after this exchange with Corsi that Stone began making “a series of public statements that he was in contact with Assange, and that he knew what information Assange was planning to release,” prosecutors said in a Feb. 10 sentencing memorandum.
Corsi later told investigators the email he sent Stone in reply — which accurately forecasted the release of Podesta's email in October — was based on his own deduction and not the result of any inside information or a source close to the group.
The collection of crimes for which Stone was convicted essentially amounts to exaggerating about how much he knew, then lying and scrambling to keep those boasts from being exposed.
During his trial, Stone’s attorney Bruce Rogow didn’t deny that his client repeatedly lied to the House committee.
“He did brag about his ability to try to find out what was going on," Rogow said. “There was no intermediary between Mr. Stone and Julian Assange. It’s made-up stuff.”
But, he argued, Stone didn’t have any “corrupt intent.”
Stone was convicted in November 2019 of all seven counts in the federal indictment. He was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of the Mueller probe.
Why Did Prosecutors Initially Recommend a Stiff Sentence for Stone?
In a sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 10, federal prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Stone to serve seven to nine years in prison, saying Stone committed a "direct and brazen attack on the rule of law" by lying to Congress and obstructing a federal investigation.
They charged in the filing that Stone “decided to double – and triple – down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful.”
“Stone’s actions were not a one-off mistake in judgment. Nor were his false statements made in the heat of the moment. They were nowhere close to that,” prosecutors wrote in the court papers.
Prosecutors also pointed to Stone’s behavior after he was indicted in January 2019. Stone repeatedly violated a gag order preventing him from speaking publicly about the case. He was eventually banned from posting on social media for the duration of the trial after publishing on Instagram an image of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over his case, with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.
"Stone's conduct over the past two years shows the low regard in which he holds the House Intelligence Committee's investigation and this very criminal case," prosecutors wrote. "That conduct suggests that a period of incarceration is warranted to achieve adequate deterrence."
Why Did the Justice Department Intervene in the Case?
A day later, on Feb. 11, the Justice Department overruled federal prosecutors and said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone.
The department told a federal judge that its earlier recommendation “does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position” and asked Judge Jackson to impose a sentence that was “far less.” The move prompted the four lawyers who prosecuted Stone to quit the case.
The DOJ insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was not made in response to a tweet from Trump, who earlier in the day had blasted the original sentencing recommendation as “very horrible and unfair.”
Trump denied having instructed the DOJ to change its sentencing recommendation while insisting he would have the authority to do so if he chose to exercise it. Attorney General William Barr said in an interview with ABC News the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made before Trump's tweet and that the president had not asked him to intervene.
In their revised sentencing memo, Justice Department officials argued the initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances” but did not propose a specific punishment, deferring that decision to the court.
Democrats decried the decision, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
At Thursday's hearing, federal prosecutor John Crabb, who took over the case after the original trial team quit, contradicted the revised sentencing memo and argued in favor of the original recommendation.
Crabb apologized to the judge for the "miscommunication" and asked Jackson to impose "a substantial period of incarceration" for Stone's threats against Credico.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.