Trump’s Roger Stone commutation: Was it ‘corrupt’?

Trump’s Roger Stone commutation: Was it ‘corrupt’?

President Donald Trump’s commutation of the prison sentence of longtime advisor Roger Stone last Friday night was entirely predictable, and shocking at the same time.

It was entirely predictable in that anyone who’s paid much attention to the subject has seen it coming for months. President Trump has long complained about what he perceives as the unfairness of Mr. Stone’s prosecution. Mr. Stone, for his part, openly pleaded for his old friend to save him from prison.

Yet it was still shocking to consider the consequences when the act finally occurred. President Trump was not only relieving Mr. Stone of the threat of jail. He might also have been removing a threat of future exposure of wrongdoing from someone else: himself.

The commutation might also ensure that one of the great mysteries of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation remains unsolved: whether Mr. Stone communicated with Russian cat’s-paw WikiLeaks in advance of its release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton, and whether he apprised candidate Donald Trump of that at the time.

“Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, in a statement.

President Donald Trump’s commutation of the prison sentence of longtime adviser Roger Stone last Friday night was entirely predictable, and shocking at the same time.

It was entirely predictable in that anyone who’s paid much attention to the subject has seen it coming for months. President Trump has long complained about what he perceives as the unfairness of Mr. Stone’s prosecution. Mr. Stone, for his part, openly pleaded for his old friend to save him from prison.

Yet it was still shocking to consider the consequences when the act finally occurred. President Trump was not only relieving Mr. Stone of the threat of jail. He might also have been removing a threat of future exposure of wrongdoing from someone else: himself.

The Stone commutation might also ensure that one of the great mysteries revealed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation remains unsolved: whether Roger Stone communicated with Russian cat’s-paw WikiLeaks in advance of its release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton, and whether he apprised candidate Donald Trump of that at the time.

That channel, if it existed, might, theoretically, have involved coordination or collusion, and certainly communication, between known Russian agents and members of the Trump team. Of all the threads left dangling by special counsel Mueller, it’s perhaps the most intriguing.

“Unprecedented historic corruption – an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, in a statement on the Stone commutation.

In written answers to Mr. Mueller’s inquiries, President Trump said that he did not recall “the specifics of any call” he had with Mr. Stone during the 2016 campaign. He did not recall any discussion of WikiLeaks and possible upcoming releases of any information damaging to the Clinton campaign, he said.

But at the least, redactions from the original Mueller report recently made public suggest the Mueller team strongly suspected the president lied in his written responses to questions about his dealings with Mr. Stone. Then-candidate Trump had direct knowledge of Mr. Stone’s outreach to WikiLeaks, according to multiple witnesses cited by Mr. Mueller. The candidate pushed his staff, hard, to continue that outreach. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort said Mr. Trump personally told him to follow up the Stone connection.

It’s possible President Trump simply forgot these details after several years had passed.

“But the President’s conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President’s denials and would link the President to Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks,” the Mueller Report concludes.

The White House, for its part, has defended the commutation in part by flipping the table and saying that it was the Mueller investigation that was corrupt. Mr. Stone’s prosecution and sentence, seen through that lens, could be regarded as illegitimate.

“Roger Stone was treated very unfairly,” said President Trump over the weekend. ”Roger Stone was brought into this witch hunt, this whole political witch hunt, and the Mueller scam – it’s a scam, because it’s been proven false – and he was treated very unfairly.”

But that statement runs contrary to the stated opinion of Attorney General William Barr, who, although critical of the Mueller probe, has called Mr. Stone’s prosecution “righteous.”

Mr. Mueller, breaking a long silence, published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post over the weekend defending his investigation in general and the Stone prosecution in particular. He pointed out that Mr. Stone lied to Congress repeatedly, about everything from the identity of his intermediary with WikiLeaks to his communications with the Trump campaign. Mr. Stone tampered with a witness as well, threatening among other things to do violence to the witness’s beloved dog.

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“When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Mr. Mueller wrote.

“It may ultimately impede those efforts,” he added.

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