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Stone sentence exposes Justice Department

The rule of law is a bedrock principle of our democracy.

In theory, this means we have a system of laws, meted out in an equitable fashion without regard to race, social status, or who you know.

In practice, it is difficult to achieve equity, and we can point to many ways in which the less wealthy and people of color are at a disadvantage in the criminal justice system.

If we want to maintain the integrity of our legal system, we need prosecutors and judges who, as much as possible, are independent of political influence and honestly attempt to enforce the law.

The Roger Stone sentencing recommendation is a case in point.

Despite the media reports that prosecutors “recommended” a sentence of seven to nine years, the truth is much more nuanced. In the original sentencing memo, prosecutors began by looking at the crimes for which Stone was convicted: seven felonies, including perjury and witness intimidation.

Then they looked at the relevant sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines recommend a seven- to nine-year sentence. This is how it should be. The sentencing guidelines are there to ensure that administration of justice is equitable.

However, the memo went on to outline what aspects of the case might mitigate that sentence. It’s likely, even without political interference, Judge Amy Berman Jackson would have settled on a lesser sentence — as she did when sentencing Paul Manafort.

In revising the sentencing memo, the political appointees in the Justice Department ignored the sentencing guidelines and pretended that Stone’s crimes were not as serious as they were.

Professional career prosecutors refused to sign onto the revised memo that minimized those crimes. Does anyone really believe that these revisions weren’t in response to the president’s tweet that the Stone sentence “cannot stand?”

Does anyone really believe that the president actually understands the sentencing guidelines and isn’t just interested in defending someone he considers an ally?

Corruption of our justice system has two components. The first is using the government’s powers to threaten your perceived enemies. The second is using government powers to reward your friends and allies.

Our president is wielding both these tools. He proudly told us he would during his campaign. Now, a compliant Justice Department is enabling.

Americans have always prided ourselves on being a nation of laws; that status is being threatened by the president, attorney general and political appointees of the Justice Department.

Bridgette Jackson

Altoona

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