Right-wing media outlets are rallying to defend convicted Trump confidant Roger Stone after President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr pushed to have his sentence reduced, triggering widespread concerns about the potential weaponization of the Justice Department.
On February 10, federal prosecutors filed a sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone, who was charged last year with seven felonies related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, including lying to Congress, intimidating a witness, and obstructing an official proceeding. The next day, just hours after Trump angrily tweeted that the sentencing recommendation was a “horrible and very unfair situation,” the Justice Department, led by Barr, announced that it would be seeking a lesser sentence for Stone. The Justice Department’s reversal prompted all four federal prosecutors on the case to resign, raising concerns that Trump and Barr are interfering in legal cases of interest to the president despite a White House denial; these concerns were later confirmed by reporting from NBC News.
Trump continued to go on the offensive, smearing the federal prosecutors for supposedly being associated with Mueller, attacking jurors for previous social media posts that were critical of the president, and even going after Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing Stone’s case. Trump also suddenly yanked the nomination for a Treasury Department position from U.S. attorney Jessie Liu, whose office was overseeing the Stone prosecution.
The actions taken by the Justice Department and the Trump administration over the last few days have rattled the legal community. The New York City Bar Association expressed “deep concerns about the impartial administration of justice in connection with the prosecution of Roger Stone in federal court in Washington, D.C.,” calling for “immediate investigations." Federal prosecutors told The New York Times that they are worried about pursuing criminal cases related to the president or his allies, fearing pressure from the Justice Department and the Trump administration. Since his arrest last January, Stone’s allies in right-wing media, including Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Fox’s Tucker Carlson, have embarked on a long-term campaign to interfere with the criminal proceedings against Stone, such as calling for a presidential pardon and harassing people involved with the proceedings.
Now, right-wing media figures are rallying to protect Stone and defend Trump and Barr’s seemingly corrupt actions. Some are continuing their calls for the president to pardon Stone, while others decry the proceedings against him as unfair, rigged, or hypocritical. Like Trump, right-wing media has also attacked individuals involved in the case, including smearing a juror based on past social media posts despite the fact that her anti-Trump opinions were posted after the trial. The smear against the juror originated with far-right Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. Conservative media is also defending Barr’s apparent role in the proceedings, arguing that it is within Barr’s rights to interfere in the case and claiming his actions are understandable.
Like past defenses of Trump’s scandals, right-wing media’s strategy hinges on the conspiracy theory that a bureaucratic “deep state” has been out to undermine Trump and his allies since the 2016 election. Here are some examples of how they’re spinning the president’s abuse of power this time:
Claiming that Trump should pardon Stone
One America News Network host and “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted a meme calling on Trump to pardon Stone.
On his prime-time Fox News show, Carlson urged Trump to pardon Stone, saying that “the president could save Roger Stone's life, vindicate himself, and end his nonsense forever.”
Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton tweeted: “Should Stone be pardoned? I suspect extreme prison sentence recommendation for Stone is a slap at @realDonaldTrump by Deep State DOJ in response to his resounding acquittal.”
Fox contributor Charles Hurt argued that Trump “should pardon everybody that has been caught up in this political witch hunt.”
Newsmax’s John Cardillo called for Trump to pardon Stone, arguing that the “Obama appointed Judge Amy Berman-Jackson did not handle this case fairly or impartially.”
On Fox’s Outnumbered, co-host Harris Faulkner said that the Stone controversy could have been “completely avoidable” if Trump had pardoned his “friend.”
Arguing that the charges against Stone are unfair
Sean Hannity reacted to Stone's sentence recommendation by saying that it “reeks of prosecutorial misconduct.” Hannity also applauded the DOJ for “rightfully” stepping in, berating the “disgusting two-tier justice system.”
Fox contributor Trey Gowdy argued that “there are child pornographers who don’t get nine years.”
On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger said that the recommendation against Stone wasn’t “fair,” arguing that “we are going to have to revisit a lot of the prosecutions that took place” during Mueller’s investigation.
Fox host Jesse Watters suggested Stone’s sentencing recommendation was the result of a “hoax investigation” and proves we are “living in a banana republic.”
On Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich claimed it’s hypocritical to prosecute Stone when there has been “no action” against Hillary Clinton’s former State Department staff or FBI agents involved in the Mueller investigation. Gingrich argued that Trump’s allies are unfairly targeted by the justice system and Stone’s prosecution is a “real abuse of power by some career lawyers who are anti-Trump going after a Trump supporter at a level which they would never apply to somebody who had supported Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade bemoaned that Stone’s life has been “destroyed” and “ruined,” while co-host Ainsley Earhardt parroted an argument that “nine years is usually reserved for gang members” and “drug dealers.”
Kilmeade also justified Trump’s actions by arguing that Stone was “70-plus-year-old man” who was aggressively arrested by “basically a SWAT or SEAL team.”
The Federalist published an article arguing that the sentencing recommendation for Stone was “insane.”
Smearing individuals who are involved with the proceedings
Human Events’ Will Chamberlain tweeted at Trump to “Fire the Mueller prosecutors!”
One America News’ Posobiec tweeted, “Good morning except biased jury foremen who speak out about the case but forget that Twitter is searchable.” Posobiec also said that “time and again [Stone’s] lawyers pointed out anti-Trump bias on the part of jurors” but “one by one the judge dismissed their concerns.”
Fox contributor Dan Bongino shared an article from his blog about the Stone juror’s “anti-Trump social media posts.”
The Federalist’s Sean Davis said that the juror’s social media posts prove she “determined long before she was tapped as a juror that anyone indicted by Mueller must be guilty.”
The Federalist published an article calling a juror on the Stone case a “Trump-Hating Russia Collusion Hoaxer.” The Federalist ran another article claiming “Mueller Prosecutors May Have Lied To DOJ About Stone Prison Sentence Recommendation.”
Far-right trolls on the 4chan message board attempted to release personal information about the juror and her family online.
Supporting Bill Barr and his role in the Stone proceedings
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs said that Barr “works for the president of the United States” and is “not independent by any measure.”
Henninger defended Barr on America’s Newsroom, saying that he is “pushing back against the conventional wisdom about the Russian collusion narrative” saying that the FBI has “lost credibility” and Barr is “intent on getting some sort of credibility back,” so “of course that means the establishment down there is going to try to take him down.”
On America’s Newsroom, The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn said that “the attacks on Barr show that they know he is effective and he’s good” at his job.
America’s Newsroom guest Lauren Claffey said that critics are “using this attack on the attorney general to reinforce this narrative that Trump is corrupt,” but the argument “doesn’t have teeth.”