Prosecutor defends initial DOJ recommendation at Stone sentencing

The Justice Department on Thursday again shifted positions on its recommended punishment for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE’s longtime associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneNew HBO documentary lets Gaetz, Massie, Buck offer their take on how to 'drain the swamp' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Brawls on Capitol Hill on Barr and COVID-19 Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing MORE, the latest development in a controversial episode that raised questions of White House interference at the agency. 

Stone ultimately received a sentence of three years and four months at the conclusion of his Thursday sentencing hearing. But this came after top department officials last week overruled the seven- to nine-year prison term recommended by trial prosecutors in favor of a lighter sentence.

On Thursday, though, Justice Department prosecutor John Crabb, a recent addition to Stone’s case, defended the original memorandum and a key argument for imposing a stiffer sentence.

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“It was done in good faith,” Crabb told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, before she handed down Stone’s sentence.

Trial prosecutors, following federal guidelines, initially recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone. But after Trump blasted that decision on Twitter, top Justice Department officials urged the court to apply a far lighter sentence, which last week led the entire four-person prosecution team to resign in apparent protest.

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent MORE denied the White House had influenced the decision. But critics said top department officials’ decision to overrule career prosecutors on behalf of Trump’s longtime adviser was evidence of political influence over the department and raised concerns about the rule of law under Trump.

Jackson on Thursday pressed Crabb to explain why the Justice Department changed its positions from the first sentencing memo to the amended version that urged more leniency.

Crabb declined to reveal details about the behind-the-scenes decisionmaking process but defended the integrity of the trial team.

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In another apparent shift, Crabb also supported a key portion of the original sentencing recommendation that was based in part on Stone’s conduct toward Randy Credico, a comedian and radio host who testified at the trial. 

Stone, a 67-year-old right-wing provocateur, was found guilty in November of lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his efforts to provide the Trump campaign inside information about WikiLeaks in 2016.

At trial, prosecutors showed that Stone, using threats and often vulgar language, repeatedly pressured Credico, who had interviewed WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeGlenn Greenwald calls charges against Assange a threat to journalistic freedoms Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology Justice Department announces superseding indictment against Wikileaks' Assange MORE, not to cooperate with congressional investigators who were looking into Trump campaign ties with Russia. 

Credico ultimately decided to assert his Fifth Amendment rights after the panel issued him a subpoena. He said on the stand that Stone’s influence played a role in that decision. 

In the Justice Department's initial sentencing memo, prosecutors said Stone’s threats toward Credico warranted a substantial increase to his sentence. 

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The original memo noted that Credico later said he did not believe Stone would follow through on his threats. But in recommending their enhanced sentencing, they pointed to Credico’s trial testimony in which he worried that Stone’s words, if repeated in public, might make “other people get ideas.”

When top Justice Department officials intervened in Stone’s case, their supplemental memo appeared to undercut the significance of Stone’s dealings with Credico.

“While Mr. Credico’s subjective beliefs are not dispositive as to this enhancement, the court may consider them when assessing the impact of applying the enhancement — particularly given the significant impact that the enhancement has on the defendant’s total guidelines range,” reads the second memo, which was signed by Crabb.

But on Thursday, Crabb told Jackson that the Justice Department stood behind its initial judgment that the threat against Credico should increase the severity of Stone’s sentence. 

“Our position is this enhancement applies,” Crabb said. “And we ask the court to apply it.”

Jackson said the original sentencing recommendation was thorough and well-supported but ultimately ruled that a prison term of seven to nine years was too steep.

Crabb apologized to Jackson for the "confusion and difficulty" that resulted from the Justice Department's shifting positions.

"It was not caused by the original trial team," he said.