Trump friend Roger Stone is set to be sentenced. Here's what you need to know

Key Points
  • Trump friend Roger Stone is set to be sentenced for crimes related to lying to Congress and tampering with a witness.
  • The president has criticized the case against Stone, who lied to a House committee about his contacts with Trump's campaign related to WikiLeaks.
  • Stone's sentence by Judge Amy Berman Jackson will be suspended until she rules on his motion seeking a new trial based on alleged juror misconduct.
  • Attorney General William Barr has been criticized for demanding a new sentencing recommendation for Stone that was sharply less than what trial prosecutors first requested.
Roger Stone, former campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives for his criminal trial on charges of lying to Congress, obstructing justice and witness tampering at U.S. District Court in Washington, November 6, 2019.
Tom Brenner | Reuters

Roger Stone, a friend of President Donald Trump and longtime Republican operative who for decades reveled in a dirty trickster persona, is set to be sentenced Thursday in Washington for lying to Congress and tampering with a witness.

Unlike most other criminal sentencings, however, the largest question looming over Stone's federal court hearing might be not how harsh a punishment will he receive, but whether he will ever have to serve that punishment.

Stone's attorneys have filed a motion seeking a new trial for the Florida resident, based on alleged juror misconduct during his trial.

The motion, which is sealed, followed disclosures that jury forewoman Tomeka Hart posted articles and other information on social media critical of Trump.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Tuesday she would proceed with the sentencing before she ruled on Stone's bid for a second trial. The terms of the sentence, including any prison time, fines, or other conditions, will be suspended until Jackson issues her ruling on the new trial motion.

If Jackson grants Stone that trial, the sentence she announces Thursday would be void.

Trump has refused to rule out granting Stone a presidential pardon. On Tuesday, the president granted pardons and commutations of sentences to 11 people, including junk bond king Michael Milken, ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, former New York Police commissioner Bernie Kerik and ex-San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

Trump repeatedly has said Stone has been treated unfairly by prosecutors.

At the same time, Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, ignited a wave of criticism from congressional Democrats and Justice Department alumni by calling for, in Trump's case, and by ordering, in Barr's case, a sharp reduction in the trial prosecutors' recommendation of a harsh prison term of seven to nine years for Stone. The Justice Department's subsequent recommendation was for an unspecified sentence. Four career prosecutors then withdrew from the case and one of them resigned from the DOJ.

Trump tweet

A truck featuring Barr's face with the words, "Remember your oath," was driving around the courthouse Thursday morning. It was pulled over by a police car after a cop spotted the driver of the truck holding a cellphone in his hand.

Outside federal courthouse before sentencing of Roger Stone, Feb. 20, 2020,
Kevin Breuninger | CNBC

Stone, 67, was convicted in November of charges linked to his false statements to a House committee about his contacts with the document disclosure group WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, and his unsuccessful, crude efforts to force an associate, comedian Randy Credico, to endorse those lies.

Stone was found guilty of five counts of false statements, and one count each of obstruction of proceedings and witness tampering.

The case was one of several lodged against people in Trump's orbit by then-special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump railed against Mueller's probe since it began in 2017, and continued doing so after it ended last summer.

Stone's case remained a thorn in Trump's side because it included evidence that suggested that Trump himself had been kept apprised by Stone of Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks in 2016.

WikiLeaks that year released a set of emails that had been stolen from John Podesta, the campaign chief for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, as well as from the Democratic National Committee.

The emails, which contained information that was embarrassing to Clinton's campaign and to the DNC, were hacked by Russian agents, the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies have said.

Before Election Day, Stone tried to get the emails. Prosecutors said Stone kept Trump's camp aware of what he had learned about WikiLeaks' plans for releasing the emails.

But Stone told a House committee the following year that he had no such conversations with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.

Trump later told Mueller in written answers to questions, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with" Stone, "nor do I recall Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign."

Stone, who did not testify at his trial, denied the charges.

His lawyers have asked that the judge to sentence him only to probation, with no time in jail or prison.

Credico, in a letter to Jackson last month, also asked that Stone not be sentenced to prison, despite Stone having called him "a rat" and "a stoolie" and warning him, "prepare to die."

"It is not justice" to send Stone to prison, Credico wrote the judge. "It is cruelty."

Trump ally Roger Stone found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering
Trump ally Roger Stone found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering

But the four prosecutors who conducted his trial asked Jackson last week to send him to prison for up to nine years, with a significant fraction of that term reflecting his threats against Credico and Credico's dog.

That sentence would mirror the prison term of between seven and nine years recommended by federal sentencing guidelines as calculated by U.S Probation officials.

Judges are not bound by those guidelines, just as they are not bound by the suggestions of prosecutors or defense lawyers, but often take the guidelines into account when crafting a criminal sentence.

The guidelines reflect the severity of a crime, a defendant's criminal history, and other factors, such as their role in the crime and whether or not they have accepted responsibility for their conduct.

Hours after the prosecutors made their sentencing recommendation, Trump blasted it on Twitter as excessive.

The next day, the Justice Department, under Barr's direction, said it would file a new sentencing recommendation in the case.

Timothy Shea, the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., whose office prosecuted Stone, said in that new filing that Jackson should give him "far less" time in prison than what was recommended by the trial prosecutors.

Shea said in the new filing that the first proposal "does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice's position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter," and "could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances." Shea's filing did not propose a specific prison term, saying it would be up to Jackson to determine the "appropriate" punishment.

The four trial prosecutors all quit the case on the same day the new sentencing recommendation was filed, in protest of the move. One of those prosecutors resigned altogether from the Justice Department.

In the following days, nearly 2,500 former Justice Department employees, including top prosecutors and other high-level officials, signed a letter calling Barr to resign.

"Each of us strongly condemns President Trump's and Attorney General Barr's interference in the fair administration of justice," the letter said, specifically citing the Stone case.

Barr has denied that Trump's tweets condemning the original sentencing recommendation played a role in his decision to call for a less severe prison term for Stone.

But Barr told ABC News in an interview last week that Trump's tweeting about criminal cases is making it "impossible for me to do my job."