The New York Times reports on last night’s commutation of the sentence of close Donald Trump campaign associate Roger Stone, the latest act in the administration’s accelerating disregard for the rule of law in the interest of self-preservation:
For months, senior advisers warned Mr. Trump that it would be politically self-destructive if not ethically inappropriate to grant clemency to Mr. Stone, who was convicted of lying to protect the president. Even Attorney General William P. Barr, who had already overruled career prosecutors to reduce Mr. Stone’s sentence, argued against commutation in recent weeks, officials said.
But in casting aside their counsel on Friday, Mr. Trump indulged his own sense of grievance over precedent to reward an ally who kept silent. Once again, he challenged convention by intervening in the justice system undermining investigators looking into him and his associates, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that he went too far in claiming “absolute immunity” in two other inquiries.
Democrats condemned the commutation of Mr. Stone’s 40-month prison term and vowed to investigate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling the move an act of “staggering corruption,” said she would pursue legislation to prevent the president from using his power to protect those convicted of a cover-up on his own behalf, although that would face serious constitutional hurdles and never be signed into law by Mr. Trump…
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as of this writing the Senate GOP majority’s last remaining shred of conscience, found the words few other Republicans could manage:
Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 11, 2020
Responding today in a Washington Post op-ed, Special Counsel Robert Mueller recapped Stone’s crimes, saying “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.
The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.
Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.
Even Attorney General William Barr, who has richly earned his reputation as Trump’s “getaway driver” as opposed to the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, told Trump that commuting Stone’s sentence was wrong–and after Barr’s intervention into the case to lower the requested sentence before it was commuted, no one has done more on Stone’s behalf than William Barr until Trump made the ultimate “intervention” yesterday.
From what we can see, the only full-throated defense of this action is coming from the most hard-core supporters of the President, who embrace without question the administration’s baseless counter-narrative that the real bad guys of the 2016 Russian election interference campaign were the victims, President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and especially Hillary Clinton–and because they were the real bad guys it was somehow okay for Roger Stone to lie to protect Trump.
The last time Cory Gardner was asked about Roger Stone back in February, he ran away from the reporter asking the question. Running away from the hard questions about Trump is so routine for Gardner now that he gets seriously off balance when cornered. But even then, Gardner is totally unable to show even a token degree of independence from Trump, and after a few repetitions this is understood to be complicity by all sides. Gardner knows it, and more importantly Gardner’s boss knows it.
For most Americans paying attention, commuting Stone’s sentence only further establishes guilt that no one seriously questions at this point. Everybody knows now what the Russians wanted out of 2016, how that coincided with what Trump wanted, and through Roger Stone how Trump’s campaign came to know the Russian game plan. The only thing that matters in 2020 is this: are you on the side in American politics willing to embrace a criminal enterprise in the White House in exchange for lower taxes and wedge issues, or are you not?
Cory Gardner has made his choice, and now you’ve got to make yours.