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Now: Roger Stone Sentencing Hearing Underway; Judge in Stone Case Agrees Sentencing Recommendation Should Be Higher Due to Witness Threats; Bloomberg Back on Campaign Trial after Battering at Last Night's Debate. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

We're starting this hour with breaking news and it sounds like it might be a wild ride this morning. A federal judge will be sentencing longtime Trump associate, Roger Stone, any minute now. The hearing is under way as we speak in D.C. You can see a shot there from outside the courthouse.

At the same time, the possibility that President Trump could pardon Stone looms very large over this entire thing.

A jury convicted Roger Stone of lying to Congress, obstruction and threatening a witness. Witness tampering, essentially. All related to his efforts to contact WikiLeaks and help the Trump campaign in 2016.

The sentencing comes amid growing concerns over the president's attack on the rule of law. In just this case that we're talking about with Stone today, the president has attacked the prosecutors publicly, from his own Justice Department, attacked the federal judge overseeing this case, and attacked the jury foreman involved in this case.

And don't forget Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in that shocking way to reduce the initial sentencing recommendation coming from the Justice Department, causing all of the prosecutors to withdraw in protest from the case.

Yes, that's just the background. And we're still waiting for exactly what is going to be coming any minute now.

Let's get over to the courthouse. Outside the courthouse is CNN's Sara Murray with all the developments.

Sara, what is the latest you're hearing from inside?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. This is ongoing. The judge has not handed down Roger Stone's sentence yet. But there's pretty remarkable activity playing out in court now.

We have seen the judge repeatedly side with harsher sentences for Roger Stone when it comes to obstruction, witness tampering. She hasn't handed down the overall sentence yet but she's explaining her thinking on these various items he's been charged with.

The other thing that's remarkable is we're seeing the prosecutors in the room from the Justice Department. Remember, these are new prosecutors, because the four who were on this case resigned when the Justice Department asked for a lesser sentence than the seven to nine years originally asked for.

The new prosecutors in court are agreeing with the judge. They are essentially backing away from the revised sentencing memo that Bill Barr and other attorneys submitted to the court and essentially siding with the judge and agreeing that Roger Stone deserves these harsher penalties.

I think what you're seeing is a Justice Department that is trying to make up some of make up the losses that they severed over the last couple of weeks.

What they're saying in court now and doing with this defendant, Roger Stone, matters. It matters for other defendants. It matters for other people who are convicted of obstruction, for other people who are convicted of witness tampering.

So it is pretty extraordinary to watch these new prosecutors on this case essentially agree with the judge, and all but disavow this new sentencing memo that has been put in.

Right now, Judge Jackson is in the middle of what seems like condemning Roger Stone's behavior during this trial. Stone, of course, in the courtroom listening to that. We don't know how much longer it is going to be before we get an overall sentence. But certainly a lot of drama playing out in that courtroom right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Fascinating.

Sara, thank you.

Sara will bring us updates as soon as they come. She'll be bringing us the breaking news.

Let's me get over, as we wait, to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz who has been following all of this.

Shimon, what is your reaction to these updates?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Just to note, the judge is going through some calculations now. We're getting notes from inside the court. It could be at any moment that we'll get the sentencing.

But what we're seeing here, we have all been waiting to hear from Judge Jackson. And we have. I want to read something that she just briefly said a short time ago.

In talking about a harsher sentence for Roger Stone, and how she says it should apply here. Because of the intimidation and threats. And so she explains this. She says, "I suppose I could say Roger Stone didn't intend to hurt me."

This is, of course, the threats on social media that Roger Stone posted against her.

"And just say that it is just classic bad judgment," the judge says.

And kind of saying, well, I could dismiss it as being accidental.

He used -- she said, "He used social media to get -- to broadcast dissemination possible. Incendiary activity is precisely what he's known for," she says.

Nothing his friends, in these letters that they sent to her, indicate basically asking for leniency.


She then says this is -- this is the key line here. She says, "This is intolerable to the administration of justice. The court should not sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say that's just Roger being Roger."

That's the judge. We had been waiting to hear from her. So we now know --

BOLDUAN: That's the judge, Shimon. But that's also Roger being Roger. Isn't that the case that the defense -- his defense attorneys have been trying to argue?

PROKUPECZ: That is exactly the case defense attorneys have been trying to argue. That's the case they put on to the jury. And they wanted the jurors to believe that. They didn't believe that and prosecutors didn't believe that.

And that was the whole point of this case in some ways, to prove, to show this case mattered, that people can't just behave this way, obstruct justice, come in, lie to Congress, in the middle of a very important investigation.

That was essentially the entire argument by the prosecution, why this case mattered, why the truth matters, why our systems matter, especially at a time when we're seeing the president attack our system, attack the judicial system.

This is the judge saying and explaining why all of this matters. She is obviously now going through the calculations. We have yet to hear exactly what the sentence is.

But it does seem that the judge here, for the first time, right, not holding back, expressing her views.

And we've also have seen interesting moments in court where the new prosecutors are basically backing up this investigation, backing up this prosecution, saying that Roger Stone should get an enhanced sentence. So we'll see. This will happen at any moment -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Shimon, stick with us if you can.

Let me bring in Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor, CNN legal analyst.

Elie, first and foremost, what is your reaction to hearing from Judge Jackson and also what we're seeing, which is the new prosecutors on the case going with the first pursuit, the first recommendations in the sentencing memo, not the one that Bill Barr then decided to push?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good for Judge Jackson, first of all. She's laying down the law.

Roger Stone, we may remember, has pushed fate throughout this case. Had a gag order. He wasn't supposed to speak about the case, and he did it over and over and over. The judge was very patient. She didn't throw him into jail. She could have.

But today, she's saying clearly this disrupts the function of justice. She's going to punish him for that.

Now, from the prosecutors point of view, what we're seeing is a back track of a back track.

Let's remember, there's two different sentencing memos the Justice Department put in this case.


HONIG: The first memo was very aggressive. That was by the actual prosecutors from Mueller's team, who tried and convicted Roger Stone. They did the whole calculation and came out at this seven-to-nine- years figure. A big chunk of that calculation was for threatening to harm and intimidate a witness.

It sounds like -- the second memo was much lighter. It said we recommend far less time. But now it sounds like the prosecutors are in court saying we're back on memo number one.

BOLDUAN: So are people excused to be confused by this?

HONIG: No, they shouldn't be confused.


HONIG: It sounds like they're back to phase one again. And whether that's the individual prosecutors taking a stand or Bill Barr had a change of heart, we'll see.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that context of all of this is really important because what you have is a revolt going on inside the Justice Department against Bill Barr. And Bill Barr, of course, recommended a lighter sentence without saying specifically what it should be.

And what you have from all indications going on in court today are these attorneys backing, not Bill Barr, but backing the attorneys who quit en masse the other week, saying, you know, they had reason, they had reason.

And this is what the judge really seems to be agreeing with here because she is saying that, as a result of Stone's obstruction -- she said, "As a result of that, you had inaccurate and incorrect, incomplete report from the House on Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign." And that is very important.

So, you know, there's a political back story to this, even though this is going on inside the courtroom. And of course, hanging all over this is the question of, what is Donald Trump going to do if the sentence is more than he would like.

BOLDUAN: Or quite frankly, if there's any sentence, which is going to be -- I mean --

BORGER: That's right. That's absolutely right. Which he did not want. But listening to the judge, from what we're hearing from Shimon, sounds like the judge is taking all this pretty seriously.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Let me add to the conversation, former FBI general counsel, Jim Baker.

Jim, do you see -- the reports we're getting from the courtroom, do you see this as kind of the judge and the prosecutor -- I guess from the prosecutor's perspective, disavowing the direction from Bill Barr? What is your take on this?


JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the second sentencing memo that Elie referenced doesn't make a recommendation. It turns it over to the judge to sort it out. We'll have to figure out what she does here. But, to me, this whole proceeding today, I think, is an effort by the judge to get things back on track.

I'm really disappointed, I would say, mildly in how the Department of Justice and the president have managed this sentencing. It has been a real mess, frankly. I think they made a hash out of it, to be honest.

So the judge now is doing what she is supposed to do, going through the case, going through the guidelines, making her calculations, deciding whether these enhancements apply or not.

And she's doing -- as Shimon referenced a little while ago, she's doing what is required for the appropriate administration of justice. That's what this is all supposed to be about.

And so -- that's why these crimes that Mr. Stone committed are so significant because they go at the heart of attacking the ability of the United States to administer justice, by obstructing, tampering and tampering with witnesses and so on.

Anyway, today is about the judge getting it back on track and we'll see what she ultimately decides.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

And very quickly, what the fallout and implications of it all are.

And you guys are going to stick with me.

We're going to take a quick break. We have more updates coming from the courtroom.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We're waiting for the president's longtime associate and adviser, Roger Stone, to face his sentence. So far, the judge has been indicating that Stone should receive a higher sentence, citing his threats against witness, Randy Credico.

There are new updates from inside the courtroom amid all of the confusion of multiple sentencing memos and who is arguing what.

Let's get back to Sara Murray. She is outside.

Sara, what is the latest?

MURRAY: Well, the new prosecutor on this case, John Crab, was just talking to the courtroom and the judge. He apologized for the confusion the government has caused. He also said the confusion was not caused by the original trial team.

And went on to say, Kate -- and this is important in light of all of the attacks we have seen from President Trump on these proceedings, this is the new prosecutor -- went on to say, "This prosecution is righteous." He also said, "The court should impose a substantial period of incarceration on Roger Stone."

Now, he -- even though we have seen these Justice Department attorneys in court today agree with the judge that a harsher sentence might be fitting in this case, this prosecutor is sticking in some ways with the revised sentencing memo. He's not asking the judge for any specific period of incarceration for Roger Stone. He instead decided to leave it up to the court.

There was a notable moment where Judge Jackson is asking him about this revised sentencing memo where the Justice Department asked the court to be a little more lenient than they originally requested, and wanted to get more -- the judge wanted to get more specifics on who ordered that memo. And this prosecutor would not answer her questions. He said he was not going to elaborate on the revised memo or who directed him to write it.

So the prosecutors who are in court today are still protecting Bill Barr's role in this, even as they seem to be going out of their way to essentially say, look, the Mueller team brought this prosecution, brought this case justly, and that Roger Stone deserves to serve prison time for it.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Thank you, Sara. Really appreciate it.

Elie, if you're the prosecutor, new to the case, what you going to say to the judge?

HONIG: I applaud what this prosecutor is doing. And as a DOJ alumni who was on the front lines trying cases, I'm so impressed by this. This is like the scene where the students rise up and push back against the oppressive headmaster. I mean --


BOLDUAN: Really? Really? I mean, like --


HONIG: Yes. Because they're going back essentially to the original memo, saying things like, there was confusion and it wasn't on the part -- wasn't the fault of the original prosecutors. Well, then whose fault is it? There's only one other sort of group here.

BOLDUAN: Play the alternative universe. The alternate option would be saying we're sticking with this second sentence, the revised sentencing memo, and they could have just argued that until the cows come home.

HONIG: Sure. Let's remember what is in the second memo. We'll call it the Barr memo because Attorney General Barr dictated it.


HONIG: They say that the original recommendation is excessive and unwarranted and that the sentence should be, quote, "far less" than the seven to nine years. That's pretty dramatic. That's sounds very different than what's happening --

BOLDUAN: And that's the opposite of what is happening in the courtroom right now.


BOLDUAN: Fascinating.


BORGER: I think -- I'm not the lawyer here, but I think this prosecutor is walking a fine line here. And doing it very well. Saying that the -- we have to say that, and the prosecution is righteous, and that court should impose a substantial period of incarceration.

On the other hand, this prosecutor, Crab, did not want to get into who did what to whom and what happened when there was a revised memo that was done at the -- we presume, done with the authorization of the attorney general. Did not want to get into that. And so did not specify what he wants.

He said, look, I'm going to leave it up to the court. We have confidence you're going to impose a fair sentence here. And I think that was the right way to do it. And -- but walking a really fine line here.


Jim Baker, back with us as well.

Jim, what do you think of this?

BAKER: So this is a very solemn day. I mean, someone, Roger Stone, is going to jail. And -- most likely. And so this is something -- or at least being sentenced for crimes that he's been convicted of committing. And so everybody in the system needs to take this very, very seriously.


And this back and forth with the Justice Department is just not sending the right message to the public, which should understand that the -- this is a very solemn day and the Justice Department is representing the sovereign. The Justice Department is representing all of us, the United States of America in the court.

It has an obligation to follow the law and make clear recommendations to the court that are just in this case in light of the offense, in light of the defendant, but also in light of the interests of the public. Because the public is interested in a just outcome here. It is the Department of Justice, right? And has to be justice for everyone in the United States, including the defendant.

And so this back and forth and so on, I just find it not something that is going to instill confidence in the American people, in the administration of justice, which is so critically important today, given the president's statements, given all the other concerns that people express on a constant basis.


Jim, stick with me.

Let me get over to Shimon Prokupecz. He's been watching this and following every twist and turn.

Shimon, what are you thinking?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, Jim is absolutely right. This is exactly what the judge said is what today is about, the administration of justice. You have a president who is attacking the administration of justice, who believes this case should have never been brought, that this has been unfair.

And you have prosecutors with the Department of Justice, who, just in open court, on the record for all to hear, saying that the prosecution is righteous. And that the Department of Justice operates without fear, favor or political influence.

We have not heard this before in this case. Right? This case has not been -- it is political from the beginning. But to have prosecutors, senior prosecutor from the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington, D.C., to have to come in and explain this in open court.

I think Jim is right, this is a solemn day. It's an important day for the Department of Justice. Because this is the way they're going to communicate. Certainly the line prosecutors. This is the way they choose to communicate in a court of law before a judge, for everyone to read.

And what we're seeing today is essentially a judge that is going after the president in some ways. Not naming him obviously. But she's taking issue. She's taking issue with Roger Stone's conduct.

And you have prosecutors now from the U.S. attorney's office seeming going against what the attorney general here has done. That has been very remarkable as well.

And that is because they realized there's going to be a record of this. And they need to protect the system and the administration of justice. And that's exactly -- I think the judge put it so well, that's exactly what today is about.

BOLDUAN: Let's get back outside the courthouse. Sara Murray is there with an update -- Sara?

MURRAY: We just heard in court from Roger Stone's attorney, who has officially asked the judge for no prison time in this case for Roger Stone. Stone also stood up and made it clear to the judge he will not be speaking on his own behalf. He said, "I choose not to speak at this time. Thank you very much."

In some ways, Kate, not a total surprise. We know Stone has already asked the judge for a new trial in this case. He's also most likely going to appeal whatever sentence he gets, assuming he doesn't get pardoned before then. But it is notable he did stand up and formerly tell the court he would not address it at this time.

The court is in a break right now and these proceedings will resume. We still do not have the judge's final word on what Roger Stone's sentence should be.

BOLDUAN: Also, somewhat surprising, knowing Roger Stone, that he wouldn't take the opportunity to speak, I think, on the other hand --

Sara is outside the courthouse. She said they're taking a break.


We'll take a quick break. Many more updates to come as this sentencing is under way.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We continue to follow the breaking news out of D.C., where Roger Stone, longtime associate and adviser of Donald Trump, is facing his sentencing as he was convicted on seven counts. He's facing his sentencing as we speak.

Amid the chaos that was really created after the president tweeted -- attacked the judge, the jury, and the prosecutors in the case. And Bill Barr directed that the Justice Department revise their sentencing recommendations to that judge.

The sentencing -- the sentencing is ongoing. They're taking a quick break. We'll bring you updates when they come.

At the very same time, we're watching the campaign trail. Mike Bloomberg is back on the campaign trail this morning, holding an event now in Salt Lake City. Make no mistake, he's a bit more battered and bruised this morning after the barrage of attacks he faced in his fist debate appearance last night.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I would like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse- faced lesbians. And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I actually welcomed Mayor Bloomberg to the stage. I thought that he shouldn't be hiding behind his TV ads.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SOUTH BEND MAYOR: Let's move forward with someone who is actually a Democrat.




BOLDUAN: Even Bloomberg's campaign is admitting it wasn't a great night. His campaign manager saying this in one quote.