There’s a longstanding and time-honored tradition in America that the Department of Justice is independent and free from political influence, but President Donald Trump is the newfangled sort of conservative who cares little about longstanding and time-honored traditions. The latest example is Trump’s brazen efforts to secure a lighter sentence for Roger Stone, one of Trump’s several friends and associates who have been convicted in a court of law for serious felonies.
Stone has reveled in his infamy since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Nixon reelection committee’s “rat fuckers” — their own chosen name, by the way, and not ours — and his entire career has been one of unabashed sleaziness. He was a partner with Trump campaign manager and convicted felon Paul Manafort in a lobbying firm that specialized in the lucrative business of representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating a witness. The prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, which Trump has made clear in “tweets” and other public pronouncements he considers too harsh a sentence for his longtime friend and advisor.
Trump is entitled to his opinion, of course, but his opinion shouldn’t matter in the case any more than yours or ours, what with the justice system being a coequal branch of government according to the constitutional order that we more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives still revere. Attorney General William Barr has unsurprisingly ruled against the prosecutors’ recommendations, all four of the distinguished career prosecutors have resigned from the case in protest, with one resigning from the government altogether, and Trump’s opinion might well trump yours or mine or anyone else’s.
On the other hand, maybe it won’t. There’s still a constitutional order that makes the courts a coequal branch of government, and Stone’s fate is for now in the hands of Judge Amy Bergman Jackson, who has a reputation as a stubbornly independent jurist who has recently ruled in Trump’s favor on a lawsuit to compel the president to preserve records of his dealings with foreign governments but is unlikely to bow to presidential pressure for a lighter sentence. She might even choose to demonstrate her independence by throwing the book at Stone, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did.
There will be appeals, of course, as Stone is constitutionally entitled to, and he might well wind up before some Trump-appointed and more friendly judge, but he has been found guilty of serious felonies in a court of law and will likely face some prison time unless he gets a presidential pardon. That’s well within the realm of probability, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Manafort also gets a get-out-jail-free card, along with the other five people convicted of felonies in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That investigation documented numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government that it showed was working on the Trump campaign’s behalf, but did not find proof of any conspiracy, and declined to bring charges of obstruction of justice because of a justice department policy against bringing any sorts of charges against any sitting president, so the Trump position is that the investigation was invalid and so are any of the seven guilty verdicts that resulted. It’s an argument the Trump fans will surely buy, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of us,
Stone’s a Nixon-era old man, and nine years might well prove a death sentence, and for all his freely admitted sleazebaggery he’s only even threatened violence on one provable occasion, so maybe the prosecutors’ recommendation is a bit harsh. That’s just our opinion, though, and we think the matter its probably best left to the long-standing and time-honored traditions of America’s independent justice system. Here’s hoping that’s how it works out.
— Bud Norman