Despite the narratives that we keep hearing, Donald Trump’s decision to illegally meddle in the Roger Stone criminal case is nothing new for him at all. He criminally conspired with Paul Manafort after Manafort cut a disingenuous plea deal. He made criminal threats against Michael Cohen. The only thing that’s different this time: the fact that it’s Stone.
Lets put it this way. If Roger Stone’s sentencing date had arrived before Donald Trump’s acquittal, or for that matter before impeachment even began, would Trump be handling it any differently? Of course not. Trump ultimately decided to let people like Manafort rot because he concluded that they would remain loyal to him – or at least remain quiet – even if he let them rot. And he’s turned out to be right about that. Manafort is presumably still under the impression that Trump will magically pardon him on his way out of office, if Manafort even makes it that long. But Stone is a different matter.
Roger Stone is the kind of guy who becomes “friends” with people just so he can collect dirt on them and then use it to his advantage. This is a problem for Donald Trump, considering he and Stone have been personal friends going back forty years. Sure, former Trump lieutenants like Michael Cohen have the kind of transactional criminal dirt on Trump that could put him in prison (and will put him in prison if he loses the election in November), but Stone surely knows the kinds of dirty secrets that Trump fears even more than the prospect of prison. After all, it’s just what Stone does.
As Roger Stone’s court appearances have gone on, he’s appeared more physically and psychologically frail. At one point during his trial he reportedly refused to leave the bathroom for an extended period of time. Our guess is he isn’t interested in sitting quietly in solitary until after Trump loses the election in November. Stone surely wants a pardon now.
The trouble is, pardons aren’t the magic wands that MSNBC and CNN often portray them as being. Trump has to worry that if he pardons Stone, it could set off a series of legal rulings on pardon power that could end up preventing Trump from being able to try to pardon himself and his kids on his way out the door. And in terms of political impact, Trump pardoning Stone would probably cut Trump’s already-weak 2020 odds in half. It could hand the Democrats a huge argument to use in swaying undecided voters.
So instead Donald Trump has been trying this highly corrupt yet still very silly idea of having Bill Barr reduce the Roger Stone sentencing recommendation, even though the judge in this case is invariably going to still give Stone the exact same prison sentence that she was always planning to give him. This has turned into a scandal and it’ll hurt Trump, without helping Stone one bit. But Trump seems to hope that Stone is naive enough to think he’s being helped, so he won’t seek revenge. Trump is a desperate man trying to split the difference between two losing options, and it’s not working.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report