LAS VEGAS — Within hours of a federal judge sentencing Roger Stone to three years and four months in prison for “covering up for the president,” that president, Donald Trump, lashed out at the justice system during an hour-long, rambling redress of grievances to recently released prisoners marking their graduation from a re-entry program in Las Vegas.
“I want to address today’s sentencing of a man, Roger Stone,” Trump said to the gathering of graduates, their families, and community leaders. “I want to see this play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion.”
Hope for Prisoners, a mentoring and job placement program, has assisted more than 3,000 “hopefuls” as they’re called, successfully navigate life beyond incarceration since its inception in 2009. Graduation speeches are unfailingly inspirational.
But Trump, who encouraged graduates their “greatest years are just ahead,” focused on his own travails and commiserated with the former prisoners about the state of the judicial system.
The president posited that the foreperson of the jury that convicted Stone was an “anti-Trump activist.”
“It’s my strong opinion, that the forewoman of the jury, the woman who was in charge of the jury, when you take a look, how can you have a person like this? She was an anti-Trump activist. Can you imagine this?”
“You wouldn’t know about a bad jury. Anybody here know about a bad jury? These people here know more about bad juries than everybody here including the sheriff and the mayor,” Trump said, referring to the formerly incarcerated. “We know about bad juries but we’re not going to say it too much. Let’s not say it in front of the cameras. But you’re my experts.”
“OK, but this woman, who is an anti-Trump person, now I don’t know if this is a fact, but she had a horrible social media account,” the president said of Tomeka Hart, during the gathering at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police headquarters. “The things she said on the account were unbelievable. She didn’t reveal that when she was chosen. And she’s, from what I hear, a very strong woman, a very dominant person, so she can get people to do whatever she wants. So she became the foreperson, forewoman of the jury. And I assume they asked her a question: ‘Do you have any bias?’ She didn’t say that. So, is that a defrauding of the court? You tell me. But does this undermine our fair system of justice? How can you have a person like this? Did she delete her social account?”
”What’s happening when they’re nobody?” Trump asked. “It happened to Roger Stone and it happened to Gen. [Michael] Flynn and it happened to, I won’t name names.”
Attorney General William Barr, who stated last week that Trump’s public intervention in Justice Department prosecutions, including Stone’s case, is hampering his ability to do his job, was scheduled to appear with Trump, according to organizers of the event. Barr, however, was not present.
His boss made no mention of the attorney general, but he did bash former FBI Director James Comey ad others.
“I’m here to make a fair system. I know Roger. Everybody knows Roger. What happened to him is unbelievable. They say he lied. Other people lied, too,” Trump claimed.
“You had people who forged documents. You had people who wrote fake dossiers and brought them to the FBI. These people in the front row know better than anyone else in the room what the hell I’m talking about,” Trump said, referring to the graduates.
“Drain that swamp, POTUS!” a supporter yelled from the back of the room, generating cheers from the crowd.
“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States,” said Trump, who has been under fire this week for issuing pardons to controversial figures including Michael Milken and commuted the sentence of personal acquaintances such as former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who once appeared on Trump’s reality television program. “I’m going to let it play out. I think that’s the best thing to do because I’d love to see Roger exonerated and I’d love to see it happen because I think he was treated very unfairly.”
“They talk about witness tampering, but the man he was tampering didn’t seem to have that much of a problem with it. They’ve known each other for years. It’s not like the tampering that I see on television when you watch a movie. That’s called tampering. Putting guns to people’s heads and other things.”
Trump bemoaned unfairness in the justice system and brought up his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and bashed the “fake news media.”
“I hope you had a fair and wonderful court system, but perhaps you didn’t. If you didn’t, we want to straighten it out. But we have to straighten it out at the top. So we have a lot of dirty cops. I love the people at the FBI. But the people at the top were dirty cops,” he said.
“I just want to let the fake news media know, they are a helluva lot more dishonest than you people in the audience. I’m going to let the media know, I’m going to watch the process and at some time I’ll make a determination. Roger Stone and everybody needs to be treated fairly and this has not been a fair process.”
He also credited his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the “father of criminal justice reform.”
“We’re sending a powerful message to prisoners who have reformed their lives. When you return to society we’re not going to leave you behind. And now we don’t have the excuse of a bad economy,” Trump said.
“Everyone in this room is here to make sure you have the support you need to succeed, thrive and never look back,” the president told the graduates. “As long as you work hard and follow the law and do your part to contribute to your communities your best days are just beginning.”
Trump also took the opportunity to announce he’s pondering a pardon for Jon Ponder, the founder of Hope for Prisoners, who was released almost a decade ago from High Desert State Prison after years in and out of crime. The announcement drew cheers from the crowd.
A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Nevada Current.