ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone was sentenced today to three years and four months in prison. Stone was convicted last fall of witness tampering, obstruction and lying to Congress in a case resulting from the Mueller investigation. NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was at the federal courthouse here in Washington, where Stone was sentenced this morning. And Ryan's here with us now.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Roger Stone is a famously colorful character, so just describe what the scene was like at the courthouse today.
LUCAS: Well, there was certainly a buzz in the air. There was a phalanx of television cameras and photographers at both entrances to the courthouse. When I was walking in this morning, Stone's supporters were unfurling a giant black-and-white banner with a picture of Stone with his arms raised and the hashtag #pardonrogerstone. The courtroom itself was packed. Stone's friends and acolytes certainly turned out. But his opponents were there as well. When Stone stepped out of the courthouse after his sentencing, he was met outside by a crowd of people, some of whom were shouting lock him up. And there were others who were chanting pardon Roger Stone.
SHAPIRO: As you have chronicled, this sentencing has received so much scrutiny and public debate and attention. So how did the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, ultimately justify the sentence that she handed down?
LUCAS: Judge Jackson had a lot to say today. She spoke for nearly an hour and went point by point through how she came to her decision.
LUCAS: She said that Stone was not prosecuted - as some of his supporters, including the president, have claimed - for standing up for Trump. She said that Stone was prosecuted for covering up for Trump. Jackson said that Stone took it upon himself to lie to Congress and obstruct its investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. And Judge Jackson made clear that lying to Congress, obstructing a legitimate investigation, is serious business. Stone - she called Stone's actions a threat to America's institutions, the foundations of this country's democracy.
Stone's defense said during the trial that his lies to Congress essentially didn't matter. They said, at root, who cares? Judge Jackson knocked that down today. She said Congress cares. The Justice Department cares. The jurors who heard this case care. And pointedly, she said, the American people care, and Judge Jackson herself cares.
SHAPIRO: So prosecutors had originally recommended seven to nine years in prison, more than twice what he received today.
SHAPIRO: That led to this back-and-forth between the president and the attorney general, Bill Barr. Remind us what those two said about that original sentencing recommendation.
LUCAS: Well, this whole process, kind of cascade of events, has been playing out over the last week. It began, again, as the prosecutors in the case recommended a seven-to-nine-year sentence for Stone in their original sentencing memo. The president then tweeted that he thought that this was unfair. He called this essentially a miscarriage of justice.
A few hours later, the attorney general intervened. The Justice Department filed a second sentencing memo and recommended a lighter sentence, prompting the four prosecutors who handled Stone's prosecution at trial - they then withdrew from the case. All of this had this kind of blow-up effect and raised a lot of questions about possible political interference in the justice system and, of course, politicization of the Justice Department in the Trump administration.
SHAPIRO: And now the question is whether President Trump is likely to pardon Stone after a week in which he's already issued a lot of pardons.
LUCAS: There are a - yes. And there are a number of steps potentially before we get there. There's still a motion pending for a new trial in this case. Judge Jackson says she will rule on that soon. If that fails, Stone is likely to appeal. We have to say that Stone is still out on bond - out on bail as this process plays out. There is, yes, as you mentioned, a possible presidential pardon. Trump was actually asked about this this afternoon. Here's what he said.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. I think that's the best thing to do because I'd love to see Roger exonerated.
LUCAS: Now, for that process to play out, that timeline may take it past the election. But important point here - the president is certainly leaving the door open to a possible pardon for stone down the road.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.