He'll judge for himself
Never mind that President Donald Trump was willing to turn the Justice Department inside out, or that he attacked a judge and a juror in pursuit of a break for his pal Roger Stone. Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson stood her ground, sentenced him to 40 months in prison for crimes including lying to Congress and witness tampering and rejected Trumpworld's claims of persecution.
"He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” she said in court. “The truth still exists; the truth still matters,” Jackson declared, and “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy. If it goes unpunished it will not be a victory for one party or another; everyone loses.”
Jackson's words won't be the last on Stone's fate. He is seeking a new trial, and Trump dropped strong hints that if all else fails, he's got a pardon pen ready. That would render the president's recent outside agitation of the justice system almost irrelevant to the end result, except perhaps as drama and disruption for its own sake. But the show will go on.
“I want the process to play out. I think that’s the best thing to do because I would love to see Roger exonerated — and I’d love to see it happen — because personally I think he was treated unfairly,” Trump said during an appearance in Las Vegas. “At some point, I will make a determination," the president said.
Prosecutors said Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and self-described dirty trickster, lied during congressional testimony to conceal his central role in the Trump campaign’s efforts to learn about computer files hacked by Russia and made public by WikiLeaks.
Perplexingly, a little more than a week after an extraordinary move by Attorney General William Barr to back off his Justice Department’s original sentencing recommendation led the four original prosecutors to resign, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb essentially echoed their arguments for a substantial sentence. When Jackson pressed for an explanation on why he wasn't pushing the revised, watered-down recommendation, Crabb replied, "I’m not at liberty to discuss the internal deliberations in DOJ."
Trump's continued commentary on the case, on Twitter and in live appearances, showed a determined rejection of Barr's plea that the president was making it “impossible” for him to do his job — and disregard of a floated warning that Barr was considering resigning.
Janison: Side-eye from bench
For those who found the machinations of the Justice Department under Barr in the past week curious, Jackson made it clear they're not alone.
Newsday's Dan Janison writes that Jackson noted dryly that while it's unsurprising when defense attorneys and judges find mathematical sentencing guidelines like those in the original 7- to 9-year recommendation for Stone harsh, "We don’t usually succeed in getting the government to agree.”
Meanwhile, defense lawyer Seth Ginsberg's argument for leniency rested in part on portraying his client as a jerk — "all bark and no bite." A supportive letter from radio host Randy Credico, the threatened witness, said, "Mr. Stone, at his core, is an insecure person who craves and recklessly pursues attention …"
It has to make you wonder why Trump keeps such a clown so close, so many years after publicly calling him a loser and a braggart.
Russia rage before DNI chief ouster
Trump pushed acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire out of his job after one of Maguire's deputies warned House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump reelected, The New York Times reported.
Trump confronted Maguire last week after getting word of the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. The Washington Post reported Trump erroneously believed that the deputy had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's chairman, and that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly.
Trump announced Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire temporarily with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and an aggressive Trump supporter.
Bloomberg's morning after
There was no pretending by Michael Bloomberg on Thursday that his first presidential debate went well. Speaking at a campaign rally in Utah on Thursday, he appeared to make light of his widely panned performance, asking the crowd: “So how was your night last night?”
His staff nevertheless is setting expectations higher for next week's second try in South Carolina. He was "just warming up … We fully expect Mike will continue to build on [Wednesday] night's performance when he appears on the stage in South Carolina next Tuesday,” said a statement from campaign manager Kevin Sheekey.
Bloomberg used the rally to take aim at Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner of the field, who Bloomberg argued could not attract enough crossover voters to defeat Trump.
“The real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry we may be on our way to nominating someone who cannot win in November,” Bloomberg said. “And if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base like Sen. Sanders, it will be a fatal error. We need Democrats and independents and Republicans to win.”
Bloomberg’s campaign sought to project that there was still momentum behind his bid by rolling out a list of high-profile congressional endorsements. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Warren: Drop out, Mike
Elizabeth Warren, who stuck it to Bloomberg over his past record of sexist remarks, said after the debate the billionaire should quit the race — but leave his wallet.
"Mike Bloomberg, drop out of the race. Keep putting your money in to help Democrats beat Donald Trump. And just take your ego out of it," Warren said on CNN.
Speaking of big bucks, Warren on Thursday reversed her yearlong position against accepting super PAC support for her campaign. "It can’t be the case that a bunch of people keep them and only one or two don’t," she said at a campaign stop.
Persist PAC, created to support her presidential campaign, booked nearly $800,000 in television ads for her this week.
What's gotten into Mulvaney?
There have been questions for some time about acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's job security. Comments he made during a private speech in England won't quiet them. For example, he said that the U.S. needs more immigrants.
"We are desperate — desperate — for more people,” Mulvaney said, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. “We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we’ve had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants.” They must come in a "legal fashion," he said. But Trump's top adviser on the issue, Stephen Miller, has been working to slash legal, as well as illegal, immigration.
There's more. Mulvaney also portrayed his and Trump's Republican Party as hypocritical on running budget deficits. “My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House. The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president. Then Donald Trump became president, and we’re a lot less interested as a party,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney said he found the growing deficit — which reached almost $1 trillion in 2019 — “extraordinarily disturbing” but that neither party, nor voters, cared much about it.
What else is happening:
- Trump offered a novel explanation on why he didn't consider Stone's threats to Credico to be witness tampering. "It's not like the tampering that I see on television when you watch a movie. That's called tampering — with guns to people's heads and lots of other things," Trump said.
- A Rochester-area man was arrested Wednesday on charges that he threatened to kill Schiff and Sen. Chuck Schumer during Trump's impeachment trial last month. Salvatore Lippa, 57, allegedly started one of the menacing messages by saying "Schiff, Shifty Schiff," invoking the derisive nickname Trump used for Schiff.
- Nearly 20 million viewers tuned in to Wednesday night's Democratic debate, making it the party's most-watched debate of all time, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen Media Research.
- Bloomberg News journalists have chafed at internal restrictions imposed since the boss began his campaign, but their debate story was no puff piece. The headline began, "Bloomberg hammered …" The story said rivals hit him over "crude statements regarding women and a stop-and-frisk policing policy that targeted minority men."
- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the plan to start congestion pricing in Manhattan next year could be put on hold by a delay in federal approval. "I’m not holding my breath," said Cuomo, suggesting a link to the Trump administration's opposition to the state's granting of driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
- When Bloomberg, hitting Sanders, pointed out that the socialist is "a millionaire with three houses," the senator responded, “Like thousands of other Vermonters, I do have a summer camp. Forgive me for that." Sanders and his wife bought the waterfront summer house for $575,000 in 2016.