Stone sentenced to 3-1/3 years, Trump signals no immediate pardon for adviser

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday sentenced President Donald Trump’s long-time adviser Roger Stone to three years and four months in prison and said his lies to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election posed a threat to American democracy.

After U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced the veteran Republican operative in Washington, Trump indicated he has no immediate plans to pardon Stone and would let the legal process play out, while adding that “at some point I’ll make a determination.”

“I personally think he was treated very unfairly,” Trump said in Las Vegas.

In a stern lecture during a 2-1/2-hour sentencing hearing, Jackson delivered an implicit rebuke to Trump, who has attacked her along with the jury and prosecutors in the high-profile case.

“There was nothing unfair, phony or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution,” Jackson said, citing words that the Republican president has used.

Stone’s lawyer had asked that he get no prison time. The 67-year-old Stone, who has been a friend and adviser to Trump for decades, was convicted on Nov. 15 on all seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

“He was not prosecuted – as some have complained – for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” Jackson said.

“The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” Jackson added. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our fundamental institutions – to the very foundation of our democracy.”

The judge also said Stone “knew exactly what he was doing” when he posted an image on social media last year with a gun’s cross-hairs placed over her head.

“The defendant engaged in threatening and intimidating conduct toward the court,” Jackson said. “This is intolerable to the administration of justice.”

Stone declined to speak at the hearing. Clad in a dark gray pinstripe suit with a polka dot handkerchief in the pocket, Stone stood at a lectern as the judge delivered the sentence.

After leaving, Stone – still subject to a judicial gag order – told reporters, “I have nothing to say.” In a chaotic scene outside the courthouse, Stone walked through a throng of people with a slight smile on his face and climbed into a waiting vehicle.

Stone’s lawyers have asked Jackson for a new trial, and his allies have complained that some of the jurors have expressed anti-Trump sentiments on social media. Some Trump’s allies have urged him to pardon Stone.

At a Las Vegas event for rehabilitated prisoners, Trump praised Stone as a “good person” and “smart guy” while repeating his claim that the trial’s jury forewoman was “totally tainted.” Trump said he would not use the presidency’s “great powers” as Stone seeks a new trial, but left open the possibility of a pardon.

“I’m going to watch the process. I’m going to watch it very closely,” Trump said.

Democrats said a pardon would be a green light for others to break the law to further Trump’s interests.

“To pardon Stone when his crimes were committed to protect Trump would be a breathtaking act of corruption,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment drive against Trump that ended in his Senate acquittal this month, wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Trump granted clemency to prominent convicted white-collar criminals including financier Michael Milken and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Jackson’s sentence fell well short of the seven to nine years initially recommended by the case’s original prosecutors before they were overruled by the Justice Department after Trump complained publicly. Those prosecutors quit the case. Jackson, appointed by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, said the department’s reversal did not influence her sentencing decision. The judge also fined Stone $20,000.

“This was still a very substantial sentence, especially for a non-violent, first-time offender of his age,” said Mark Allenbaugh, a consultant who formerly worked for the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Stone was one of several Trump associates who were convicted or pleaded guilty to charges stemming from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy.

He was convicted of lying to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, the website that released damaging emails about Trump’s 2016 Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.

‘A HUMAN BEING’

Defense attorney Seth Ginsberg said Stone’s career as a self-described “dirty trickster” overshadowed other aspects of a spiritual man who has served as a mentor, loves animals and is devoted to his family.

“Mr. Stone is, in fact, not simply that public persona, but a human being,” he said.

The judge noted Stone was not charged with or convicted of having any role in conspiring with Russia. But Jackson said Stone’s effort to obstruct a congressional investigation into Russian election meddling “was deliberate, planned – not one isolated incident.” The investigators were not some “secret anti-Trump cabal,” Jackson said, but lawmakers on a committee led at the time by Republicans.

Stone’s career has stretched from the Watergate scandal era of the early 1970s to Trump’s campaign four years ago. Stone has labeled himself an “agent provocateur” and famously has the face of former President Richard Nixon tattooed on his back.

Wearing sunglasses and a dark fedora as he entered the courthouse accompanied by an entourage of family, friends and lawyers, Stone strode past a giant inflatable rat dressed as Trump and a sign calling for his pardon. One onlooker shouted: “Traitor!”

After prosecutors made their sentencing recommendation last week, Trump called them “corrupt” and railed against this “miscarriage of justice.” Attorney General William Barr intervened and the Justice Department overruled the recommendation. Congressional Democrats have accused Trump and Barr of politicizing the U.S. criminal justice system and threatening the rule of law.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Jeff Mason, Lisa Lambert, Steve Holland and David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham)

Pakistani Christian woman’s blasphemy ordeal highlights plight of minorities

FILE PHOTO: The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

By Asif Shahzad and Kay Johnson

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Until one sweltering day in 2009, Asia Bibi led a simple life with her husband and children in rural Pakistan. Hers was one of only three Christian families in her village but they’d never had much trouble from Muslim neighbors, relatives say.

“She was an innocent, loving and caring ordinary woman,” said Bibi’s brother-in-law, Joseph Nadeem. “She and her husband both were farm workers. They had five kids and a happy life.”

Then, a dispute over a cup of water with fellow field laborers led to Bibi being sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam. She spent eight years on death row before Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction this week and ordered her freed.

Bibi’s ordeal has become symbolic of the difficulties that Pakistan’s tiny Christian population, only 2.6 percent of the country of 208 million, faces along with other religious minorities as hard-line Islamist movements grow stronger.

Her family is now in hiding for fear of attacks by Islamists angry at the ruling, and still waiting to be reunited with Bibi

“You know my two youngest daughters were below age of 10 when their mother went away … They don’t remember spending much time with her,” Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, told Reuters by telephone.

The family has four daughters and one son, he said.

“We are thankful to the court that it decided the case considering us human beings instead of any discrimination on the base of faith or religion.”

He said Bibi, who is about 50, has not been released from prison pending arrangements for her safety.

Thousands of members of a hardline Islamist party have blockaded roads for two days in major Pakistani cities to protest against the Supreme Court’s decision, even calling for the assassination of the judges who made the ruling.

“She can’t be safe here,” brother-in-law Nadeem said. “You know what’s going on outside. We want things to settle down before we go ahead for her release.”

Supporters of the religious party Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam - Fazal-ur Rehman (JUI-F) raise their hands as they chant slogans, after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, during a protest rally in Karachi, Pakistan November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Supporters of the religious party Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam – Fazal-ur Rehman (JUI-F) raise their hands as they chant slogans, after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, during a protest rally in Karachi, Pakistan November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

DISCRIMINATION

The rise of Islamist parties such as Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which has made “death to blasphemers” its main rallying cry, has many of Pakistan’s religious minorities worried.

Though the TLP gained no National Assembly seats in a general election this year, it won 2.2 million votes nationwide. The party’s fiery rhetoric also pulled much of the political discourse to the right in this deeply conservative country.

Pakistan is about 96 percent Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim, with Christians, Hindus and members the Ahmadi faith making up tiny minorities.

Christians in Pakistan are often targeted in attacks by militants, including a pre-Christmas suicide bomb attack last year on a Methodist church that killed more than 50 people in the southwestern city of Quetta. The attack was claimed by Islamic State’s local affiliate.

Christians are also frequent targets of discrimination and violence. In 2013, a mob burned down more than 125 Christian homes in a neighborhood of Lahore after rumors spread that a Christian resident had insulted the Prophet Mohammad.

Religious minorities are also far more likely to be charged with blasphemy than Muslims.

Despite their tiny percentage of the population, Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis made up half of the 1,549 cases of blasphemy filed over three decades through 2017, according to Peter Jacobs, the Christian head of the Centre for Social Justice, which compiled the numbers.

Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion and – as the Supreme Court’s ruling Wednesday stressed – Islam’s holy Koran stresses tolerance and fighting injustice. The ruling said that evidence against Bibi was insufficient to convict her.

Bibi’s family says that for years, they lived side by side with Muslim neighbors in the village of Ikkawali, in the bread-basket province of Punjab.

“You know, the society we live in, we are often discriminated against as Christians but she was living a happy life,” said Nadeem.

‘ENEMY’

That all changed on June 14, 2009, when Bibi offered a cup of water to her Muslim fellow field workers. A woman refused, saying anything from the hand of a Christian was unclean, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

The incident led to harsh words and a police complaint several days later, then the court case that saw Bibi sentenced to death.

“Just sipping water from a mug made the whole village her enemy,” said Nadeem.

With Bibi soon to be free, her family is struggling to make plans. They would prefer to leave the country to be safe, but there are plans in place.

“We haven’t got any contact yet either from Pakistani authorities or anyone from outside,” Nadeem said.

Yet, despite all the family has been through, Bibi’s husband Masih said he would be sad to be forced to leave his homeland.

“We’re also part of Pakistan,” he said.

“This is our country. We love it.”

(Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Oregon ranchers who sparked standoff to return home after Trump pardon

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. flag covers a sign at the entrance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, U.S. January 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

(Reuters) – Two Oregon ranchers whose sentencing on arson convictions sparked the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge were due to return home on Wednesday, after being pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump, the family said in a statement.

The 41-day standoff, which occurred in response to the jailing of the ranchers for setting a fire that spread to public land, marked a flare-up in the long-simmering dispute over federal land policies in the U.S. West. It turned deadly when police shot one of the occupiers.

The family of jailed rancher Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven, 49, in a statement late Tuesday thanked Trump.

“Our family is grateful to the president and all who worked to make this possible,” the statement read. “We will continue on our path, continue ranching and continue believing in America.”

The pair were expected to arrive at Burns Municipal Airport in southeastern Oregon, about 120 miles (190 km) east of Bend, after on Wednesday morning, the family statement said.

The ranchers were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land, after years of disputes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Hammonds said they were using standard brush-control techniques, but federal prosecutors said that in at least one instance they were trying to hide evidence of the slaughtering of a herd of deer.

They were initially sentenced to less than the legal minimum five years in prison by a judge who said the minimum was too harsh. Following an appeal by prosecutors, a different judge ordered the men back to prison to serve the full five years, sparking protests and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The White House on Tuesday called that decision “unjust.” It noted that Dwight Hammond had served about three years in prison and Steven had served four.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement expressed dismay at the pardon, calling the Hammonds “lawless extremists.”

The leaders of the Malheur standoff, including activists Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were cleared of federal charges for their role in the protest.

The pardons are the latest in a series that have raised questions about whether Trump is using the power to reward supporters. Others have included conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, for campaign finance crimes, and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who campaigned for Trump before being convicted in a case regarding racial profiling.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Trump pardons late black boxing champion Jack Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday issued a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, who was jailed a century ago due to his relationship with a white woman.

Boxer Jack Johnson. Courtesy LOC/via REUTERS

Boxer Jack Johnson. Courtesy LOC/via REUTERS

“I believe Jack Johnson is a worthy person to receive a pardon, to correct a wrong in our history,” Trump said.

In a case that came to symbolize racial injustice, Johnson was arrested in 1912 with Lucille Cameron, who later became his wife, for violating the Mann Act. The law was passed two years earlier and made it a crime to take a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.

Johnson died in 1946.

In signing the pardon, the president cited “tremendous racial tension” during the time Johnson was champion. “He really represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” Trump said.

Actor Sylvester Stallone, famous as the star of the “Rocky” boxing-movie franchise, and former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis flanked Trump for the pardon in the Oval Office. In April, Trump tweeted that he was considering the pardon after talking to Stallone.

Earlier on Thursday, Stallone posted a photo of himself at the White House on Instagram with the caption “Waiting for the moment to go into the oval office for the pardon…”

In the Oval Office, Trump said of Stallone: “I love his movies.”

“This has been a long time coming,” Stallone said, adding that Johnson served as the inspiration for the character of Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and James Oliphant; writing by Lisa Lambert; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Tom Brown)

Egypt’s Sisi pardons 203 young protesters: state news agency

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) meets with his prime Minister Sherif Ismail (4th L) with other ministers and senior State officials at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt March 13, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency.

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a pardon for 203 youths jailed for taking part in demonstrations, state news agency MENA said on Monday, as part of a pledge he made months ago to amend a protest law.

No official list of names was immediately available.

Sisi promised in October to amend a law on assembly and protests, which rights groups say is severely restrictive and critics condemn as unconstitutional. He also hinted at possible pardons for youths who had demonstrated against his rule.

Sisi does not have the authority to interfere in Egypt’s judicial processes but can issue pardons.

In November, he pardoned 82 prisoners, mostly university students.

Since seizing power in mid-2013 from the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi has presided over a crackdown on his Islamist opponents that has seen hundreds killed and many thousands jailed.

But the dragnet has since widened to include secular and liberal activists at the forefront of the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power.

A law requiring permission from the Interior Ministry for any public gathering of more than 10 people is strictly enforced and has largely succeeded in ending the kind of mass demonstrations that helped unseat two presidents in three years.

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court upheld the law in December but said that an article granting the Interior Ministry authority to deny protest requests was unconstitutional.

The law imposes jail sentences on those who violate a broad list of protest restrictions, and allows security forces to disperse illegal demonstrations with water cannon, tear gas, and birdshot. The court’s ruling kept all of these elements of the law intact and there is no further appeal.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Louise Ireland)