The top judge on the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said his court will not be influenced by public opinion, including tweets by President Trump slamming the sentencing recommendation for his longtime friend Roger Stone.
“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,” said District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell in a statement.
“Public criticism or pressure is not a factor,” the judge said.
It is extremely rare for judges to make public statements about cases, even if they are not overseeing them. The statement is seen as a sharp reminder that judges have the sole authority to decide a defendant’s criminal sentences, not the president nor the Justice Department.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sits on Judge Howell’s court, will ultimately decide Stone’s fate at a sentencing hearing on Feb. 20.
Judge Jackson, an Obama appointee, has faced much public criticism from Stone’s ardent supporters, who allege she was unfair during his November criminal trial.
Mr. Trump is one of those critics, tweeting Thursday that Judge Jackson had sent his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to solitary confinement. Although Judge Jackson did send Manafort to prison for financial fraud, she did not make the call to put him in solitary confinement.
The statement caps a strange week in the Stone case. All four prosecutors resigned from the case Tuesday after the Justice Department asked for a more lenient sentence than they had initially recommended.
The department’s intervention came shortly after the president blasted the sentencing recommendation on Twitter, causing Democrats to accuse Mr. Trump of intervening for Stone, his former campaign adviser.
In an interview with ABC News Thursday, Attorney General William Barr maintained the president did not influence the department’s decision to pursue a lesser sentence and insisted he did not discuss the Stone case with the White House.
Stone, 67, was convicted in November of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress. Prosecutors initially sought a prison sentence of seven to nine years.
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