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A judge speaks truth to Trump

Roger Stone, a longtime advisor to President Donald

Roger Stone, a longtime advisor to President Donald Trump, leaves after his sentencing hearing at the DC Federal District Court in Washington, DC on Thursday. Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison. Credit: ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

"The truth still exists, the truth still matters ... 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.”

Those remarks Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson just before she sentenced Roger Stone to 40 months in prison attest to the brilliance of the nation’s founders in establishing an independent judiciary that gives federal judges lifetime appointments, free of the political pressures of the day.

Stone, a fraud and dirty trickster, was convicted of seven felonies for lying to Congress to thwart its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. During the trial, Stone, a friend of President Donald Trump for four decades, defied the judge’s ruling not to publicly discuss the case. He then posted a photo on his Instagram account of her overlaid with crosshairs.

For his part, Trump has publicly criticized the judge, the prosecutors and the jury forewoman in the case. His attorney general, William Barr, created an uproar after the Justice Department withdrew the original sentencing memo in the case and replaced it with one recommending a more lenient sentence. That led all four prosecutors in the case to withdraw. Jackson called the sentencing shuffle “unprecedented.” And it didn’t help Barr’s protestations that he didn’t meddle in the case when a few days later Trump declared himself the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer.”

A few hours after Stone’s sentencing, Trump doubled down on his efforts to discredit the case, which stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. At a “Hope for Prisoners” graduation ceremony in Las Vegas, Trump said: “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.” Thankfully, at least for the moment, Trump won’t add Stone to his list of questionable pardons. “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.”

Stone is asking for a new trial and will undoubtedly appeal his conviction. Whether the reprehensible Stone ever sees the inside of a prison cell is beside the point. Trump’s continued attacks on federal judges because of rulings he doesn’t like, and his preference for a justice system that rewards him and his friends while punishing his enemies, are an alarming affront to our constitutional system.

This judge directly refuted the most powerful man in the world, one who  repeatedly has claimed that Stone, like his other friends, are victims of a “witch hunt.” No, the judge said, speaking about Stone but also powerfully about the majesty of our governing system, designed to protect us from authoritarianism.

“He was not prosecuted as some have complained, for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”

— The editorial board