Justice

‘Made of Steel’: Judge Amy Berman Jackson Sentences Roger Stone After Trump’s Attacks

Amy Berman Jackson, described by colleagues as "made of steel" and "whip-smart," rejects Stone's request that she recuse herself from considering whether to grant him a new trial

This courtroom sketch shows former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone talking from the witness stand as Judge Amy Berman Jackson listens during a court hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Berman Jackson issued a broad gag order forbidding Stone to discuss his criminal case with anyone and gave him a stinging reprimand over his posting of a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

President Donald Trump’s associate Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday to more than 3 years in prison on obstruction and perjury charges by a judge who has come under attack by the president as he assails the case against Stone. 

Judge Amy Berman Jackson moved forward with Stone’s sentencing on seven felonies after Attorney General Bill Barr overruled his own prosecutors’ recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison and substituted an unspecified term. She can withstand the pressure from Trump people who know her say.

“She is made of steel,” said retired Massachusetts federal Judge Nancy Gertner, who is now a professor at Harvard Law School.

Jackson, who sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison and fined him $20,000, said she agreed that the original recommendation was too harsh, but added that the probation that Stone's lawyers asked for did not go far enough. Stone's crimes demanded a significant time behind bars, she said.

Jackson denied that Stone was being punished for his politics or his allies.

“He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president," she said. "He was prosecuted for covering up for the president."

Jackson said Stone's conduct led to an "inaccurate, incomplete and incorrect" report by the House Intelligence Committee and she rejected the defense's argument that his actions did not have a significant impact on the Congressional probe.

After the sentencing, Stone's lawyers unsuccessfully asked that Jackson recuse herself from his request for a new trial over allegations of juror misconduct. They said on Friday that she could not be impartial in evaluating their claims that a juror had misled the court about her ability to remain unbiased and fair in the case.

On Sunday, Jackson rejected the recusal request, saying in an order Sunday that she had been scrupulous in ensuring Stone had had a fair trial.

The motion for disqualification appeared to be nothing more than an attempt "to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words 'judge' and 'biased' in it," Jackson wrote.

Jackson at a hearing on Tuesday blasted Trump's tweets about jury's forewoman.

"The president of the United States used his Twitter platform to disseminate a particular point of view about a juror," Jackson said. "While judges may have volunteered for their positions, jurors are not volunteers. They are deserving of the public's respect and they deserve to have their privacy respected."

Jackson in a surprise move brought nearly all of the jurors in to the hearing to address the allegations of misconduct. Jackson said that she was taking the extra step because the president had claimed both she and the forewoman were biased. She allowed the lawyers to choose two of the jurors for questioning; both said nothing improper had happened.

Jackson also questioned the forewoman, who acknowledged that she had earlier posted articles critical of Trump's policies, but said she did not look at media during the trial and had been fair as a juror.

Even as the hearing was taking place, Trump was continuing his attacks.

"There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case," he tweeted. "Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of “Trump” and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!"

In fact, Stone did paid work for Trump's campaign and after his ouster was an informal adviser and a link to WikiLeaks, notes The Washington Post's Daniel Dale.

Stone’s is the latest case before Jackson arising out of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian intervention into the 2016 presidential election. She nearly doubled the prison sentence for Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who is serving seven and half years in prison for evading taxes and lobbying laws and obstructing justice. 

”The defendant isn't public enemy No. 1 but he's not a victim either," Jackson said then.

Jackson added that it was "hard to overstate the number of lies, the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved."

She also sentenced Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, to 45 days in jail and three-year probation. Gregory B. Craig,  a Democratic former White House counsel, was acquitted on charges of lying to federal prosecutors.

Stone ran afoul of the judge early on when he posted a photo of the judge on Instagram that seemed to show the crosshairs of a gun behind her head. She imposed a tougher gag order but after prosecutors accused him of violating the order repeatedly barred him from social media.

On Thursday, Jackson referred to Stone's actions.

"The defendant engaged in threatening and intimidating behavior toward the court," she said. "This is intolerable to the administration of justice."

The case has caused a series of uproars, most recently when Barr intervened in the sentencing recommendation. The four prosecutors who worked on the case resigned, and more than than 2,000 former federal prosecutors are demanding Barr resign.

Jackson was appointed a federal judge in 2011, nominated by President Barack Obama.

She was in private practice before that in Washington, D.C., at Trout Cacheris, where she specialized in criminal and civil trials and appeals, and as a partner at Venable, Baetjer, Howard, and Civiletti. She also served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, where she received awards for her work on murder and sexual assault cases.

She received her law degree from Harvard Law School.

“She is whip-smart and her ability as a litigator in federal court translates into the qualities that make for a first-rate federal judge,” said Michael Tigar, a criminal defense lawyer whose son, Jon Tigar, is a federal judge who also has come under attack by the president for his rulings on asylum seekers and who was defended by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.

Trump has singled out Jackson on Twitter, falsely tweeting, “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”

Of the original recommendation for Stone’s sentencing, Trump wrote: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Gertner said that with his tweets Trump “is creating this cacophony that (Jackson) has to then work not to listen to.”

“She's really strong, and she's really smart,” Gertner said. “And being smart makes all the difference in the world because you then know what the law requires.”

Asked this week whether he would pardon Stone, Trump said, “I haven't given it any thought ... but I think he's been treated very unfairly."

After the sentencing on Thursday afternoon, Trump said Stone had "a very good chance of exoneration," and criticized the jury forewoman.

"It's my strong opinion that the forewoman for the jury is totally tainted," Trump said. He called her "an anti-Trump person" with "a horrible social media account."

Michael Tigar was among the past chairs of the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section who published a letter in The Washington Post on Monday criticizing Trump’s tweets.

“The president’s recent tweet against Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in Roger Stone’s trial, must be called out for what it is: inappropriate and destructive to the role of an impartial judiciary in our constitutional democracy,” the lawyers wrote. “These attacks must stop.”

They noted that the president had falsely suggested that Jackson had ordered Manafort into solitary confinement when it is correction officials who control how prisoners are held and implied that she favored former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she dismissed claims that Clinton had defamed Benghazi victims by defending herself against unsubstantiated accusations.

“Disagreeing with the basis for a judicial decision is one thing,” they wrote. “But degrading a judge, particularly when seeking to affect the outcome of a pending case involving the attacker’s ally, has no place in our society; the more so when it comes from the president. Delegitimizing the judiciary threatens the core of our democracy.”

So far Trump, in response to criticism, has insisted that he has a right to intervene in cases like Stone’s.

“Attempting to explain justice to President Trump is like trying to explain a sundial to a bat, and so I really don't know whether he's going to pay attention,” Tigar said. “There will certainly be influence on him from the people around him to moderate his tone and to moderate his conduct.” 

Jackson at the beginning of the week refused to delay Stone’s sentencing but did indicate that she would delay execution of his sentence while his lawyers seek a new trial.

Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell released a statement last week in which she seemed to be defending Jackson though she did not name her.

“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.”

Jackson isn’t the only one in her family who makes headlines. In 2015, her son Matt Jackson had a run on “Jeopardy!” that TODAY described as leaving the internet obsessed with his slow-building smile and cries of victory after a particularly tough question. He finished with more than $400,000 in regular season winnings, the sixth-highest total in regular play.

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Photos: Getty Images

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