A U.S. District Court judge in Washington has sentenced Trump ally Roger Stone to 40 months in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress. Stone is the seventh presidential associate to face jail time for crimes stemming from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and his fate sparked recent controversy at the Justice Department. William Brangham joins Judy Woodruff.
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We have two lead stories tonight: the fallout from last night's fiery Democratic presidential debate, which we will get to shortly, and the sentencing of one of President Trump's closest allies, Roger Stone.
A U.S. district court judge in Washington sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress. He is the president's seventh associate to face jail time for crimes stemming from investigations into Russian interference during the 2016 election. At an event in Las Vegas this afternoon, President Trump said he will hold off on deciding whether to pardon Stone.
President Donald Trump:
Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion.
I'm going to watch the process. I'm going to watch it very closely. And, at some point, I will make a determination. But Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process.
William Brangham was in the courtroom today, and he joins me now.
So, hello, William.
You were there for this entire proceeding.
First of all, remind us, what were the charges against Roger Stone that he was found guilty of?
As you touched on briefly, he was charged with two things, lying to Congress and witness tampering.
This goes back to an investigation that the House Intelligence Committee was doing into Russian meddling and whether — what role WikiLeaks played in the release of those Democratic e-mails during the campaign.
Stone was convicted of lying to those investigators for the House committee. He was also convicted of trying to get a witness to not testify to those investigators. He was accused of threatening that witness and threatening the witness' dog, even though that witness later wrote a letter saying he didn't feel threatened.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge who sentenced Stone today, wasn't buying any of it. She said that this witness intimidation was — quote — "a corrupt and unlawful campaign to tamper with a witness."
And, really, the judge all day today was very, very critical of Roger Stone. She said — in particular, she said Stone took it upon himself to lie, to impede, and to obstruct.
To the accusation that the president and many of his supporters have made, that this was all a prosecution based on Stone's allegiance to President Trump, Judge said that Stone was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.
It sounds as if she had quite an extensive statement to make.
So, William, this sentencing comes in the middle of this unusual turmoil right now in the air between the White House, the Justice Department, the president, the attorney general, the prosecutors. All that's in the background as this is happening.
Right. It really is an almost an unprecedented moment that we have happening.
Just to remind viewers of what happened. The original prosecutors on this case recommended a seven-to-nine-year-long sentence for Roger Stone. President Trump immediately protested, said that that was harsh and unfair.
The very next day, Attorney General William Barr stepped in and overruled his prosecutors and said, yes, it is too unfair and a harsh sentence. Those four prosecutors then quit the case. They didn't say publicly why, but everyone read it as a clear protest against this intervention.
And today, actually, during the prosecution — during the sentencing, you could see these four empty chairs at the prosecution's table where those gentlemen would have been sitting, and, instead, another U.S. attorney had to step in into their role.
And the judge tried to get to the bottom of this. She asked U.S. attorney John Crabb several times: Who ordered you to write that memo? Did you write that memo? Did you sign that memo?
She was seemingly trying to get to the bottom of all of this. Crabb said: In the end, I can't discuss internal deliberations.
All of that said, the judge still did decide to sentence Stone to less than what those prosecutors originally asked.
Three years, a little more — a little more than three years.
So, finally, what happens now to Roger Stone?
Well, he's going to go possibly for three-and-a-half years in prison. We don't know exactly when that might start.
The looming question over all of this is whether President Trump, as you mentioned, is going to pardon him. The president has, we know, been toying with that idea. He's been retweeting out FOX News hosts calling him very specifically to do that.
But we just don't know yet.
Well, we will continue to watch it.
William Brangham, fascinating story. Thank you.