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Trump Ally Roger Stone Sentenced To Three Years, Four Months In Prison; Bloomberg's Debate Debut Widely Panned After Rivals Attack. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN special live coverage of another Trump associate sentenced to prison. A federal judge just moments ago condemning Roger Stone to 40 months in prison. Stone has been convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

The Stone sentencing has become a touchstone for criticism of Attorney General William Barr who stepped in to lower the prosecutor's recommendation of a seven to nine-year sentence. His interference came just hours after President Trump tweeted his anger over the recommendation. Barr's actions led to four prosecutors on the case to walk away from it. One even left the Department of Justice all together in protest.

We have our Sara Murray and Evan Perez outside the courthouse here in Washington. And, Evan, I want to start with you. The attorney general said, ultimately, the decision lies with the judge here, Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Just break down this decision for us on the seven counts and how she explained her sentencing decision.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, one of the things she said was that she wasn't going to listen to the prosecution's memos, the memos that became so controversial. You'll remember the first one recommended seven to nine years. The second one said we leave it up to the judge. The judge says, I weren't going to listen. We weren't going to -- I wasn't going to go with seven to nine years. She ended up at 40 months, which is about three and a half years in prison. And she said that's where she was going to go all along.

But she did have the prosecutors talk a little bit about what happened behind the scenes. They said it was a miscommunication. She assured the judge that there was no political interference that played any role in the decision to seek a more lenient sentence, and then she really laid into Roger Stone, describing what he did, saying that it was a complete disrespect for the institutions of this country. She said that what he was convicted of was -- he was convicted of covering up for the president of the United States.

And I think that's one of the things that really struck me being in the courtroom was we were expecting a little bit of drama, you know, Roger Stone comes with an entourage, he had two rows of supporters in the room. The only time he really reacted visibly in the courtroom was when the judge was reading out some of his more obscene, colorful emails, the things that were entered in court before he was convicted, and he turned and smirked and smiled at some of his supporters in the room. Otherwise he just sat there, took notes, behaved himself, really, during the time that he was being sentenced.

KEILAR: I wonder, Sara, when you think of how Roger Stone was behaving there, kind of smirking as she read some things about him, I mean, clearly he has no sense of remorse on some of that. What did you think about that?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, there is another thing that the judge said that I just want to read to you that really just sums up how she views his behavior during this case. She said it is clear that Mr. Stone is an insecure person who craves and recklessly pursues attention. Nothing about this case was a joke. It wasn't funny.

And I think Roger Stone and his attorney have sort of treated this case like it was unfairly brought in the first place. They have suggested that it didn't even matter if he did lie and that there was essentially --

KEILAR: Sara Murray, if you can pause for just a moment. Roger Stone is exiting the courthouse. We understand he's going to speak. Let's listen.

All right, he was not going to speak, but we just wanted to listen to the ambient noise there as he left. And, Sara, you can hear people yelling outside. He walked out -- the body language with him is very light, right? It's not what you would expect. It's not the same kind of walk out of a courtroom that you would have seen from other associates that we have followed so closely who have been sentenced or who are going to prison.

So if you can just pick up where you left off with that as the judge -- she really had quite a scathing description of him.

MURRAY: She did. She had a scathing description of Roger Stone.


I think that she wanted to make it very clear how seriously she took these crimes, that he's been convicted of obstruction, of lying to Congress, of witness tampering. I think that was clear in the sentence she handed down. It was certainly clear in the way she talked about the case.

And it was telling to me that she said, this is the reason we have neutral parties decide these sentences. That was another swipe at the president. She said, we don't have sentences that are handed down by your longtime friend or the person you tried to protect, which in this case is the president. And we should keep all this in mind, because it's possible Roger Stone is walking out of court so lighthearted because he believes that the president is going to come out and pardon him. But I think the judge today wanted to put a stake in the ground and try to set the record straight that this was not a politically motivated prosecution, that this is how justice is supposed to be carried out, and that she was going to take her duty seriously. And she certainly, I think, hopes that Roger Stone would have a different view of this case, would begin to take his actions more seriously.

We haven't seen that during the case. We haven't really seen any sign o remorse from Roger Stone for anything he's been convicted of.

KEILAR: Yes, we certainly didn't see it just then as he walked out of the courtroom. Evan, I wonder how many times did President Trump whether by name or not come up during this sentencing?

PEREZ: A few times. The judge brought up some of the circumstance behind the things that Roger did, some of the things that -- what was going on in 2016 when he was trying to reach out to WikiLeaks. And so she mentioned candidate Trump a few times. But, really, she really kind of honed in on some of the things, the atmospherics outside the courtroom, right, the accusations from some of the president's supporters, that Roger Stone was just a trickster and that essentially he was exercising his First Amendment right to support the president of the United States.

And she kept saying, this is not high jinks. This is not about Roger being Roger. She says, dismay and disgust at the defendant's behavior should transcend party. This was her way to sort of say, look, Roger Stone, you lied to a committee at the time that was led by Republicans. So this is not about political party, this is about the conduct that really showed utter disrespect to the institutions of this country, not only to the Congress, which deserved the truth, but also to the courts, which he repeatedly, flagrantly violated the rules about his social media activity during the trial.

MURRAY: And, Brianna, I think that was one of the many things that the judge and even the new prosecutors on this case were trying to do in court today. They were trying to hold up the importance and the sanctity of the judicial system. We saw this new prosecutor on this case apologize to the court. We saw him tell the judge that he believed the court would be fair and just.

Obviously, this is all very different from what we've seen the president say publicly. We saw Amy Berman Jackson out there talking about how important it is to be forthcoming with Congress. So there are real consequences when you decide to lie and obstruct and witness tamper. And so I think it was sort of a coordinated effort by the judge and the prosecutors in this case to try to defend this system from these attacks that we've seen from President Trump.

KEILAR: Sara and Evan, thank you so much. Stand by for me, if you will, there outside the district courthouse where Roger Stone is sentenced to 40 months, just walked out there to depart the courthouse. And let's just take a look at the big picture because Stone is just one of a number of Trump associates either found guilty or who have pleaded guilty to crime since President Trump took office. This is the rogues' gallery here.

Rick Gates, former deputy campaign chair, he got 45 days for conspiracy and lying to the FBI. He testified against Roger Stone.

And then there's Michael Cohen. He got three years for, among other things, lying to the FBI.

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chief, received a seven-and-a-half year sentence, his conviction including tax and bank fraud. And he was also sentenced by the same judge here, Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

Michael Flynn is still awaiting sentencing. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and later he cooperated with investigators.

Then there's George Papadopoulos. He lied to investigators. He served 12 days.

And, finally, Roger Stone today getting 40 months in prison.

So let's discuss all of this now with Michael Zeldin. He is Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the DOJ. We have Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Congressional Editor for The New York Times, and our Shimon Prokupecz with us as well.

I will say, just let's deal with the math here, because we all wonder, well, what is the sentence going to be like. Initially, the prosecution recommended seven to nine years. Some folks said that seemed too long. Other experts said, look, when you go by the book and you add up all the things that he has been convicted of, this is actually exactly by the book. This is how it all adds up. But in the end, she went with 40 months. Why so little compared to what the original sentencing guideline was?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think she felt in her mind, obviously, that this was fair and this was the just sentence based on everything that she ticked off and that occurred in this case.


She kind of felt what the initial ask -- she did, she felt that seven to nine was a little much. But it is standard. This is what prosecutors do. And it is ultimately up to the judge. There are guidelines. She took issue with the guidelines. But she said that it's really not for her. This is the law. These are the guidelines. And she stood up for the prosecutors, the initial four prosecutors who put that sentencing memorandum in recommending the initial sentence. She stood up for them. She said, they did it right, they were ethical and I see nothing wrong with it.

There's a lot of factors into that go into this as to why she decided ultimately what he should get. She did mention some of the good that Roger Stone has done, and whether or not that maybe persuaded her, but ultimately most folks will say, legal folks, will say that this was probably the right amount of time for Roger Stone.

KEILAR: She seemed to want to make clear that the intrusion by the attorney general downgrading the seven to nine years to something lesser and more vague did not get in the way -- didn't really affect what she was -- did not affect what she was going to do, and she wanted to make that clear. But she did not hold back. This criticism of him that he's insecure, reckless and seeking attention, Julie?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, she was scathing, and she really laced into him. She did not mince her words. She made it very clear that she found his conduct completely reprehensible, both the underlying conduct and then the conduct during the trial.

And I do think that she was trying to signal, although she didn't leave much to the imagination. She said pretty much, it seems, like what she wanted to say based on the reporting. But I do think that part of it was to signal that all these intrusions, the president tweeting about this, all the atmospherics here, the attorney general having to come out and say, the president shouldn't be tweeting about this, the appearance of having a president trying to intervene and meddle in a case of this seriousness.

And she made it very clear. She thought this was a case of the utmost seriousness, was really something that offended her. And she wanted to make it clear that she was making her judgment based on what she thought was required under the law and what she thought Roger Stone deserved. But she was obviously very displeased with the way he conducted himself.

KEILAR: What do you think, Michael Zeldin?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So what she did in the sentencing, the way she reached 40 months was essentially to discount the physical threats. The seven to nine gets -- you get seven to nine when you add eight points for physical threats. When you add everything else up, you get 40 months. So that's essentially what she did. She said to him, what you did was unacceptable, but I'm not going to add those eight points to get you seven to nine years, which essentially what Barr was saying.

KEILAR: And why would that be? Why would she back off of that view that the jury had decided there were physical threats?

ZELDIN: Well, because I think that there was testimony that -- or a letter post-testimony that the physical threats were not really credible. That was really sort of theatrics, more than real. This was not a mob case. This was not Don Corleone telling a witness that if he didn't cooperate, he was going to die.

And so I think she went to where she should have gone, which in this 37 to 41-month timeframe.

KEILAR: Real quickly, does that undercut what the jury decided in your view?

ZELDIN: No, the jury decided that he was guilty and then the sentencing part of it is secondary to that and the probation and the U.S. Attorney and the defense all do their calculations. And she said, as I look at all the calculations, by all the suggestions 40 months is where he belongs.

KEILAR: All right. Stand by for me, if you will. We have more on this breaking news. We'll be going live to the White House as we await the president's response, who, by the way, was live tweeting during this hearing despite the attorney general's warnings.



KEILAR: We have breaking news. President Trump ally Roger Stone has been sentenced more than three years in prison. This is much less than what prosecutors were asking for. It's still though a pretty lengthy punishment considering the Department of Justice had intervened to get a reduction.

We have CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood who is live for us at the White House. And, John, the president has actually been tweeting during this trial. He's been live tweeting, making his feelings known. Do we know if he's watching this play out with all of us?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. Of course, he's traveling out on the West Coast trying to get into the story of the Nevada caucuses which Democrats are going to be holding on Saturday. But you can be sure that the president is tracking these developments, whether he's watching cable news or not right now.

And the president tweeted this morning that -- citing a familiar theme that it was unfair the way Roger Stone was being treated. He attempted to make comparisons with Stone's having lied to Jim Comey and Hillary Clinton. Of course, those are not valid comparisons because Roger Stone was charged by the federal government and convicted by a jury, and then we have this sentencing earlier today.

The question now is going to be, of course, Brianna, as you know, whether or not the president decides to inject himself into the case further by issuing a pardon for Roger Stone. And I think that given his pattern of behavior in the past, he will evaluate whether that's good for him. That is to say, if he does not pardon Roger Stone, is there some possibility that Roger Stone will disclose information that he knows about the president that he hasn't so far?

On the other hand, if he does pardon Roger Stone, is that going to be a backlash for him politically as he runs for re-election?


But we'll look for indications this afternoon on the president's Twitter feed. KEILAR: John, thank you so much.

And Julie Hirschfeld Davis back with us now to discuss this.

How is he going to spend it, because, obviously, he could look at this sentence, which was 40 months? So this is three and a half years compared to the original prosecution sentence guideline submitted, which was seven to nine years. He might look at that and say, actually, look, they listened to me.

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I do think that we are going to see at least some degree of victory lap from him, that Stone was being treated unfairly and he's going to claim credit for having to intervened, which is exactly the opposite of what the attorney general had wanted from the beginning. But it does seem pretty clear that one of Trump's goals in his tweeting about this case and talking about this case is to let the American public know that he feels entitled to intervene in these matters and that he thinks he can have an influence and should have an influence.

So I think there will be some of that -- I do think that we're going to hear a lot of continuation of this. He's been given a raw deal, he's been mistreated, and the only reason he was sentenced to prison at all is because he was a confidant of mine and all of my enemies and rivals, the people that he tweeted about earlier today are not facing these kinds of consequences.

KEILAR: Which would lead you to believe he may not have second guesses about the idea of pardoning Roger Stone and facing backlash, that he thinks he can spin that?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Obviously, Roger Stone was not among the people that he went ahead and affirmatively pardoned this week. But it's pretty clear that part of the reason he did that, at least what he's been telling people, is that he's still considering whether to pardon Roger Stone, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's still top of mind after the sentencing.

KEILAR: All right. Julie, thank you so much.

After a tense and fiery debate, hear how Michael Bloomberg is defending himself after a widely panned performance, and how Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are taking advantage of their big night.



KEILAR: Now, to the race for president, the Nevada caucuses just two days away, and even though Michael Bloomberg still isn't running in Nevada, he's not on a ballot until Super Tuesday, he was the number one target at last night's debate in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd 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. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Michael Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop-and-frisk, which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our administration sent in people to monitor it, and at the very time the mayor argued against that.

Even then, he continued the policy.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's great you got a lot of money, but I think you've got to come forward with your tax returns.


WARREN: We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against.

BLOOMBERG: We have a very few nondisclosure agreements.

WARREN: How many is that?

BLOOMBERG: Let me finish. None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told.


KEILAR: Bloomberg addressed his performance just a short time ago.


BLOOMBERG: So how was your night last night? Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump. Because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November. And if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base, like Senator Sanders, it will be a fatal error. We need Democrats and independents and Republicans to win.


KEILAR: joining us now is Geoffrey Canada. He is a senior adviser to the Bloomberg campaign. He is nationally recognized for his pioneering work, helping children and families in Harlem through his non-profit Harlem Children's Zone. Geoffrey, thank you so much for joining us.

And I just -- I'm sure you were watching this very carefully. This was such an important night for Mike Bloomberg. And as you know, these attack lines last night, they were not curveballs. We all knew that they were coming. Do you wish, as a senior adviser, that Bloomberg had appeared more prepared?

GEOFFREY CANADA, BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Yes. So this is not a real surprise to me that Mike struggled. You know, when you have been off the debate field for a long time, it's a little bit like a boxer who is training for a fight after not fighting for ten years, and he's sparring with sparring partners, and everybody is saying, oh, you're doing great, you're doing great. You get in that ring and suddenly you realize that was not a real preparation for the real fight. Mike went into that ring last night and they tried to knock him out. He wasn't ready for it. He'll be ready next time.

Trust me, I know Mike. I've been with him over 20 years, working with him in city government, working with him around the foundation work.