Trump punts on Stone pardon decision after sentencing

President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE on Thursday said he believes his longtime confidant Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages Roger Stone asks court to delay prison sentence over coronavirus concerns MORE “has a very good chance of exoneration,” but that he intends to let the legal process play out after Stone was sentenced to more than three years in prison earlier in the day.

“I’m following this very closely, and I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion,” Trump said during remarks at a prisoner graduation event in Las Vegas.

“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out,” Trump added. “I think that’s the best thing to do. Because I’d love to see Roger exonerated, and I’d love to see it happen, because I personally believe he was treated very unfairly.”

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The president’s comments made clear he was closely monitoring the developments in the Stone case and could consider a pardon for his former associate at some point, while signaling action was not imminent. Such a move would prove divisive at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and among his own advisers who have expressed differing opinions on whether to pardon Stone.

Trump made his latest remarks on the case at the outset of remarks at a graduation ceremony for ex-felons who had completed the Hope for Prisoners program, hours after a federal judge sentenced Stone to 40 months in jail for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a proceeding. 

Stone had filed a petition for a new trial after Trump amplified accusations of potential bias on the part of the forewoman on the jury that convicted Stone last November. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, declined to postpone Stone’s sentencing as she considered his motion for a retrial.

The president on Thursday offered a lengthy testimonial defending Stone and cast doubt on the circumstances that led to his conviction and sentencing. Trump downplayed the connection between Stone and his 2016 campaign, but praised the conservative provocateur as a “smart guy” and a “good person.”

“Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly,” he said. “And this has not been a fair process. OK?”

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Trump also repeated questions about the forewoman of the jury that convicted Stone, claiming she had been exposed as an “anti-Trump activist” and suggesting that her presence on the jury had tainted the fairness of the process. 

“Is that a defrauding of the court? You tell me,” Trump asked the crowd, claiming she concealed anti-Trump social media posts from the court hid her bias. Trump has zeroed in on the woman, Tomeka Hart, after her political views expressed on social media came under scrutiny last week when she identified herself as a forewoman of the jury on Facebook. 

Another juror in the trial came forward to defend Hart on Wednesday amid Trump’s accusation that she harbored “significant bias,” telling CNN that she was a strong advocate for a rigorous process that considered the rights of the defendant.

The president also appeared to question the legitimacy of the charges against Stone. He said the witness tampering charge Stone was convicted on was not like the tampering he was familiar with from movies where people are held at gunpoint. He also questioned why James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed The Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing MORE, Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeShowtime miniseries to feature Jeff Daniels as Comey, Brendan Gleeson as Trump Lisa Page joins MSNBC as legal analyst McCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe MORE and other former government officials had not faced punishment for their actions.

“At some point I will make a determination,” Trump said. “This has not been a fair process.”  

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Stone was the last of six Trump associates to be charged in connection with former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s two-year investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. 

He was convicted last November by a jury in Washington, D.C., on all counts he was charged with.

The president’s remarks were sure to overshadow what was intended as a commencement ceremony for prisoners who had graduated a prison reform program.

Trump has fueled speculation in recent weeks that he plans to pardon Stone. He has repeatedly derided the case against Stone as a “disgrace,” targeting the prosecutors and judge involved with the case in particular.

The president late Wednesday shared a video clip of Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonTammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream DeVos 'very seriously' considering withholding funding from schools that don't reopen Biden dismisses 'disgusting, sickening' criticism of Duckworth's patriotism MORE advocating for a pardon for Stone. The video was pinned to the top of Trump’s Twitter feed as of Thursday afternoon.

But his insistence on weighing in on Stone’s case has led to rifts within the Justice Department.

Trump decried an original sentencing recommendation for Stone of seven to nine years as a “miscarriage of justice.” A day later, the Justice Department said it would alter the recommendation, though Attorney General William BarrBill BarrOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban DOJ to resume executions next week for first time in 15 years Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill MORE has said the decision was unrelated to the president’s commentary.

Barr urged Trump in an interview with ABC News last week to stop tweeting and commenting publicly about Justice Department criminal cases, marking a rare and public break between the attorney general and his boss. Barr said Trump’s tweets were making it “impossible” to do his job.

Tensions between Trump and the DOJ have remained high in the week since, however. He has continued to tweet about Stone’s case and maintained he has a right to intervene in cases if he wants to, while Barr reportedly has told those close to Trump that he may resign if the tweeting continues.

The White House and a DOJ spokeswoman have downplayed any potential for the attorney general’s imminent departure, saying the two men get along and Barr does not plan to resign.