President Donald Trump spoke at a graduation ceremony for ex-offenders in Las Vegas Thursday, hours after former adviser Roger Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison after being convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing a House investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Even as Trump said that he believed in second chances and urged the 29 graduates of the Hope for Prisoners program not to let others tell them what they cannot do, Trump paused to speak directly to the press corps about Stone and his chances of a pardon.
Trump said at the event — held at the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters — that he would not use his presidential pardon because he wanted the process to play out. Stone has asked for a new trial because the forewoman of the jury that convicted him has “significant” anti-Trump bias.
“I want to see this play out to its fullest because Roger has a pretty good chance for exoneration,” Trump said. The president also opined that the jury forewoman was “tainted” and left the door open for him to intervene.
At one point, Trump nodded toward the Hope for Prisoners graduates and noted, “They know about bad juries.” To laughter, Trump joked, “You’re my experts, OK?”
A Department of Justice move to pull a sentence recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone sparked four prosecutors to quit the case – and sparked calls for impeachment hearings against Attorney General William Barr.
As it turned out, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a sentence more in line with Barr’s thinking.
Trump also teased the possibility of a “full pardon” for Jon Ponder, a former bank robber who founded Hope for Prisoners eleven years ago. While Ponder served his sentence in prison, a pardon would clean his federal criminal record.
Ponder met Trump during a National Day of Prayer Event in the Rose Garden in 2018. With Ponder was Richard Beasley, the one-time FBI agent who arrested him.
Ponder recalled the White House discussions about criminal justice reform and giving ex-offenders a second chance at life. “He promised that this is what they are going to do,” Ponder noted. “That promise was kept.”
On Tuesday before he headed to a four-day trip in the West that included three overnight stays in Nevada, Trump issued 11 pardons and commutations for some high-profile white collar criminals, including former San Francisco 49ers president Edward DiBartolo Jr. and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Among the recipients were three women, Judith Negron, Crystal Munoz and Tynice Nichole Hall, serving long sentences for nonviolent offenses. Trump told the crowd, that also included supportive law enforcement officials, that he had commuted the sentences of the three women at the urging of Alice Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender whose sentence he commuted in 2018 at the urging of Kim Kardashian.
In the audience, Trump recognized Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson, who sat in the front row, for “advancing medical cures to help people overcome the stranglehold of addiction.”
Trump also recognized his son-in-law Jared Kushner “the father of criminal justice reform.”
In Washington, many on the right pushed Trump to pardon or commute Stone’s sentence for what they see as a political prosecution. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted, “Under our system of justice, President Trump has all the legal authority in the world to review this case, in terms of commuting the sentence or pardoning Mr. Stone for the underlying offense.”
But House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff warned, “It should go without saying, but to pardon Stone when his crimes were committed to protect Trump would be a breathtaking act of corruption.”
After the graduation, Trump hopped on Air Force One for a rally in Colorado Springs. He will return to Las Vegas for an overnight stay ahead of Friday’s campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center Friday.