Front-line prosecutors, some previously with Mueller’s team, argued for a sentence on the higher end for Stone than some of their supervisors were comfortable with, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
A recommendation on the higher end prevailed, with prosecutors’ filings citing federal sentencing guidelines that ratchet up in cases involving obstruction that impedes the administration of justice.
A sentence of 87 to 108 months, “consistent with the applicable advisory Guidelines would accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law,” prosecutors Jonathan Kravis, Michael J. Marando, Adam C. Jed and Aaron S.J. Zelinsky wrote in a 22-page filing.
Stone’s defense on Monday asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age, 67, and lack of criminal history.They also noted that of seven Mueller defendants who have been sentenced, only one faces more than a six-month term: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is serving 7½ years.
Given the hardships and loss of professional standing suffered by Stone and his family, “No one could seriously contend that a [reduced . . .] sentence would cause anyone to walk away from these proceedings believing that one can commit the offenses at issue here with impunity,” defense attorneys Bruce S. Rogow, Robert C. Buschel and Grant J. Smith wrote.
Hours before the filing was due Monday, the new head of the D.C. office, interim U.S. attorney Timothy Shea — a former close adviser to Attorney General William P. Barr — had not made a final decision on Stone’s sentencing recommendation, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Disagreements among prosecutors about sentencing recommendations are not uncommon, especially when it comes to politically sensitive high-profile cases. It would have been unusual, however, for the U.S. attorney’s office to endorse a sentence below the guideline range after winning conviction at trial, according to former federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department declined to comment ahead of its filing Monday.
Stone was convicted by a jury in November of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness. Stone has been a friend and adviser to Trump since the 1980s and was a key figure in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to discover damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Federal guidelines typically call for a sentence ranging from 15 to 21 months for first-time offenders convicted of obstruction offenses, such as lying to Congress, making false statements and witness tampering, as Stone was.
The range ratchets up steeply, potentially to more than seven years in prison, if the offense involves other factors such as threatening physical injury or property damage to a witness; substantially interfering with the administration of justice; or the willful obstruction of justice. Each was cited by prosecutors.
A seven- to nine-year term “will send the message that tampering with a witness, obstructing justice, and lying in the context of a congressional investigation on matters of critical national importance are not crimes to be taken lightly,” prosecutors wrote.
They added: “Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness. And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law.”
Sentencing recommendations, which come from both prosecutors and the defense team, and the guidelines are only advisory. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will have the final word at Stone’s hearing set for Feb. 20.
Jackson on Feb. 3 directed both sides to address whether prosecutors might re-raise their request to immediately put Stone behind bars or seek other punishment for what they termed his repeated violations of a court gag order.
Before trial, Stone posted a photo of Jackson with an image of crosshairs next to her head on Instagram in February 2019. During his trial, prosecutors wrote Monday, he appealed for a presidential pardon through Alex Jones, a noted conspiracy theorist who hosts the right-wing website Infowars.
Prosecutors cited both in requesting an enhanced penalty for attempting to impede his pending criminal case.
Prosecutors noted the case of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Richard B. Cheney. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the leak of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. He was spared prison time when then-President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, and he was granted a full pardon in April 2018 by Trump.
However, prosecutors wrote Monday, “Unlike Stone, Libby did not engage in witness tampering, let alone extended witness tampering over many months involving pressure, threats, and cajoling.” They added that while the Plame investigation was “undoubtedly of a serious nature, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election concerned grave issues with more far-reaching implications to our democracy and national security.”
But Stone’s attorneys said prosecutors’ claims were excessive, that the witness Stone threatened has asked for leniency on his behalf and said he never felt physically threatened by Stone personally, and that the government sought to penalize the same conduct several times over.
Overall, they asserted, Stone has been convicted of concealing information ultimately determined to be of no investigative value.“In the end, the investigations yielded no evidence of the involvement of any American with the Russian government or any agent operating on its behalf to interfere in the 2016 election,” they wrote. “It is also undisputed that Roger Stone had nothing to do with obtaining the compromised emails or providing them to WikiLeaks.”
Stone was found guilty on seven counts resulting from his September 2017 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Kremlin’s efforts to damage Clinton’s campaign.
Prosecutors said Stone lied to the Intelligence Committee to conceal his central role in the Trump campaign’s efforts to learn about computer files hacked by Russia and made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. He also threatened a witness who was an associate in an attempt to prevent the man from cooperating with lawmakers.
Stone’s two-week trial in November refocused attention on the Trump campaign’s keen appetite for dirt on its political opponents, including testimony by former 2016 deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, who testified that he overheard a July 2016 phone call in which Trump himself seemed to discuss WikiLeaks with Stone.
The trial also highlighted Trump’s ongoing standoff with congressional Democrats, then conducting an impeachment inquiry into how the president pressured Ukraine to bolster his 2020 reelection bid. Trump directed the White House to withhold documents and block testimony in the inquiry, which ended in a Senate acquittal.
Prosecutors asserted at trial that Stone thwarted Congress because the truth would have “looked terrible” for Trump and the campaign. Prosecutors argued Stone lied to protect the president from embarrassment.
They called as witnesses Gates and Trump campaign strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who took over in August 2016 when Gates’s boss, Paul Manafort, was fired over his Ukraine ties. Gates and Bannon said the campaign viewed Stone as a sort-of liaison to WikiLeaks who claimed — even before the Russian hacking was known — to have insight into its plans.
Stone’s defense repeated his position that there was “no collusion” with Russia, and portrayed their client as a hapless victim of the same braggadocio and chicanery that he practiced on others, burnishing his reputation as a political dirty trickster.
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.