White House

An Indefensible Commutation

Roger Stone, January 31, 2019 (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Trump has commuted the sentence of Roger Stone. The timing, late on Friday, suggests internal embarrassment over the move, and we wish there were more.

The commutation is a move fully within the president’s powers and in keeping with the long-established pattern of presidents’ pardoning or commuting the sentences of associates caught up in special-counsel probes, although usually the associates aren’t as sleazy as Stone. We’re a long way from George H. W. Bush’s pardoning Cap Weinberger, the great Reagan-era defense official, who had been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the Lawrence Walsh investigation.

No one would think of letting Roger Stone anywhere near any serious responsibility, and even the Trump campaign in 2016 had the sense to keep him at arm’s length.

The media and Democrats are incandescent with outrage over the commutation for someone they say covered up Trump’s treacherous dealings with Russia in 2016. But the indictment of Stone and subsequent trial definitively established that Stone had no inside knowledge of Russian hacking or WikiLeaks’s role in disseminating stolen DNC emails; instead, he tried to parlay media gossip and what he heard from an intermediary into a sense that he knew more than he did. Never before has an alleged spy been such a fatuous figure and ridiculous braggart.

There is no doubt, though, that Stone was guilty of perjury and a laughably ham-handed attempt at witness tampering. He was justly convicted of these charges and deserved to go to jail; in our system of justice, self-parody is no defense.

Attorney General Bill Barr reportedly opposed the commutation and was right to do so. The act of clemency is made worse by the fact that Stone repeatedly argued that he was owed it for his loyalty to the president.

Again, there is no reason to believe that Stone actually knows more damaging information about Trump’s dealings with Russia. Mueller’s investigators interviewed, subpoenaed, and searched hundreds of witnesses and prosecuted a couple of dozen Russian operatives and entities, and concluded that the Russians neither got help nor were looking for help from the Trump campaign. Even if Stone’s talk of omerta is a pose, it is grotesque and alone makes him unworthy of clemency.

(At least Trump didn’t pardon him, which means that his convictions still stand.)

This isn’t to deny the excesses of Trump’s critics and the prosecutors. The focus on Stone as the linchpin of a great international conspiracy was always absurd, even though some people — including Andrew Weissman, the zealous Democratic prosecutor who had a large hand in running the Mueller probe — are still clinging to it today. The early-morning SWAT team raid on Stone’s home, somehow covered by a CNN crew, was a travesty.

But Trump’s handling of the matter is indefensible. It is another indication of his perverse, highly personalized view of the criminal-justice system — and another reminder of the loathsome characters he’s surrounded himself with his entire adult life.


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