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U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is a solid pro who is likely to try to hew to a business-as-usual sentencing proceeding, especially with the circus going on outside the courtroom. Anything she does that calls attention to or takes notice of the surrounding furor will be interesting and a bit surprising. But to be sure, keeping things normal and plodding and particularized to this defendant in this case is itself a defense of the rule of law. So either way, this is happening against a tableau that highlights the contrasts between a professional federal judiciary and run amok President and ruling party.
Remember the prosecutors appearing today are all new. The ones who won Stone’s conviction resigned from the case when Main Justice repudiated their sentencing recommendation and took the extraordinary step of revoking it after it had already been filed with the court. Will the prosecutors be up to speed on the case enough to muddle through sentencing? Will Berman Jackson note the sentencing recommendation debacle?
It’s what happens after the sentencing that will potentially mark a new round in the attack on the rule of law. I don’t think we’ll see a Trump pardon of Stone today. Nothing in his track record – lots of convicted former associates! – suggests he’ll move quickly to issue a pardon. He seems to rather enjoy letting people dangle.
Will Trump attack the sentence? Will he laud a sentence that’s less than DOJ originally sought? Will the sentence, whichever way Berman Jackson rules, be immediately suspect because of the pressure Trump has brought to bear? That is most corrosive aspect of Trump’s politicization of the criminal justice system: everyone loses confidence in it.