Legal Twitter freaked out on Tuesday when it was reported that higher-ups at the Department of Justice were immediately ready to suggest lighter punishment for Roger Stone after a late-night Twitter outburst from the President of the United States.
In case you missed it on Monday, federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia did the math on the totality of Stone’s conduct and concluded that a recommendation of seven to nine years behind bars was the appropriate punishment for lying, witness tampering and obstructing justice. That’s what the guidelines told them, they said. Leaving aside the fact that there’s virtually no way Stone would end up with a punishment this severe, President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Tuesday morning and decried the sentencing recommendation as deeply unfair.
“Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” the president said in part, while hinting at a pardon down the line for his pal.
Well, an unidentified senior DOJ official is already telling both Fox News and CNN reporters that the recommendation for Stone is “extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate,” that it was not what was discussed, and that prosecutors will basically go back to the drawing board/explain themselves.
The DOJ is changing its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, according to a Senior DOJ official.
“The Department finds seven to nine years extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate," the source said, adding the DOJ will clarify its position on sentencing later today
— Jake Gibson (@JakeBGibson) February 11, 2020
DOJ on Roger Stone: “This is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official told CNN. “The department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) February 11, 2020
The reaction to this? DOJ is “rotten to the core”; “this is unheard of”; DOJ is a “political tool”; “excuse me, what?”; “deeply alarming.”
The Justice Department is rotten to the core.
I’m all for more leniency and mercy for all. But when those things are only available to someone who’s white, well-connected, and with a long history of kissing up to power, it shows how corrupted the whole thing is. https://t.co/bbUssm71fF
— Cristian Farias (@cristianafarias) February 11, 2020
— Jennifer Taub (@jentaub) February 11, 2020
This is unheard of. The DOJ recommenced a sentence of seven to nine years *yesterday.* https://t.co/fskhxiAZlY
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 11, 2020
There’s no way for this to look like anything other than a complete turnaround by DOJ to protect Trump’s political cronie at his demand. The use of DOJ as a political tool is proceeding at an alarming pace. @HouseDemocrats must act quickly. https://t.co/Ih7BHkOsoa
— Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1) February 11, 2020
Excuse me, what? The Department already spoke – in court. Obvious, highly inappropriate presidential interference in what has always been an independent prosecutorial function. https://t.co/ZIRm95UBk7
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 11, 2020
1/2 If this is true, it’s deeply alarming. DOJ does not make sentencing recommendations based on a president‘s tweets. If you believe sentencing reform is necessary, as many of us do, the way to approach that is through legislative reform that impacts everyone in the system… https://t.co/uJTqOKCONP
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) February 11, 2020
Having a hard time thinking of a case in which DOJ said a guideline sentence would be inappropriate – let alone grossly so – for a defendant who went to trial and didn't cooperate. Maybe they exist, but they're rare.
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) February 11, 2020
A U.S. Attorney who actually believed in the rule of law and/or any modicum of prosecutorial independence would resign in protest.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) February 11, 2020
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) February 11, 2020
This can't possibly be a function of political influence from the POTUS. After all, the Attorney General himself has assured us that this Administration doesn't "shred" any constitutional norms–that that's the province of the "other side."https://t.co/U56Tc5xJEV https://t.co/jM45CJM0AM
— Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) February 11, 2020
I don’t see how a prosecutor *could* explain this. Yesterday they told the judge that a sentence of seven to nine years was appropriate for Roger Stone. Today they’re supposed to argue that they were wrong yesterday?
Any judge would ask: What changed between yesterday and today? https://t.co/Gjuj8A3xpL
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 11, 2020
"A stunning rebuke of career prosecutors that will surely raise questions about political meddling in the case" https://t.co/6s62XD2haX
— Rachel Weiner (@rachelweinerwp) February 11, 2020
Either way, congrats to the line prosecutors who got sold out by the political appointees here. https://t.co/6Ypaf5l3h8
— Matt Ford (@fordm) February 11, 2020
and that's understated. Trying to imagine the particular chain of communication ending in humiliated Asst United States Attorney, who has to go in and put some kind of reasoned or principled twist on this. Deep, deep rot in the DOJ.
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) February 11, 2020
Wow. A Guidelines recommendation came out yesterday, the President complains, and DOJ is bowing to his will? DOJ is broken. https://t.co/WFwKDLQxd5
— Jennifer Rodgers (@JenGRodgers) February 11, 2020
The above adds up to only a few examples of the outrage.
Now would be a good time to remind readers that Attorney General William Barr has installed his counsel at the Department of Justice, Timothy Shea, as U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.–the office handling “lingering” Robert Mueller cases, like the ones against Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
Prosecutors recently reversed course on Flynn’s sentencing memo as well. After recommending prison time, they said they would be fine with probation–even as Flynn’s legal team moved to withdraw his guilty plea and accused federal prosecutors of misconduct.
[Image via Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images]