Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti tells me: “Judge Jackson acted the way we expect federal judges to act. In the face of political interference in the sentencing process, she focused on the facts and circumstances of the case and gave Stone a reasonable sentence.” He adds, “She almost certainly would have given him the same sentence even if [Attorney General William P. Barr] hadn’t intervened and changed [the Justice Department’s] sentencing recommendation.”
Jackson ultimately sentenced Stone to 40 months, less than the original recommendation (reversed by Barr) of seven to nine years, but more than probation only (which Stone’s lawyers had sought). What was most significant was what she said along the way, making five key points methodically, logically and with a temperament that can only be described as judicious.
First, she scolded the Justice Department for its flip-flop on its sentencing recommendation. She referenced the reversal in harsh terms (“unprecedented actions of the Department of Justice in the past week”) and asked if the current Justice Department lawyer, who was installed in the case after the original prosecutors withdrew in protest, understood the case. (“I fear that you know less about this case than possibly anybody else in the courtroom.”)
Second, she rejected the notion that this was a “deep state” vendetta against Trump. “He was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” she stated.
Third, she defended objective reality. “The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” she said, eerily echoing House impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). In words that might have equal application to Trump, she explained that Stone’s “insistence that [truth] doesn’t [matter], his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy."
Fourth, she made clear that this was a well-deserved conviction. Stone willfully lied to Congress, she said. “That’s why he was indicted; not for his political activities.” His answers to Congress, Jackson said, were “clearly false.” She reiterated, “There was nothing unfair, phony or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution.”
Fifth, she defended Congress as an equal branch of government. “Witnesses do not get to decide for themselves whether Congress is entitled to the facts,” she said. In light of Trump’s persistent efforts to delegitimize Congress and its oversight and investigatory powers, it was refreshing to hear one branch of government declare to the president, his crony and the country that Congress’s power must be respected.
Jackson’s decision and her solemn, nonpartisan determination stand in stark contrast to Barr and the Justice Department, whose credibility has been marred. Barr’s effort to translate Trump’s partisan, political tweets into legal positions for the U.S. government was exposed and ridiculed. Perhaps Justice Department attorneys will take inspiration from Jackson’s ruling and refuse to be conduits for Trump’s political chicanery in the future. (Barr’s threat to quit if Trump kept tweeting has proved empty. Even during the hearing, Trump fired off a tweet in Stone’s defense. Fortunately, federal judges are immune to such bullying.)
As former prosecutor Joyce White Vance says: “Judge Jackson delivered a sentence that was unquestionably reasonable, grounded in the facts and the law. No appeals court will reverse it.” She added, “The only real question is whether the president will pardon his old friend and political adviser.” Given Trump’s utter lack of impulse control, I am sure it will be soon.