Roger Stone’s prison sentence isn’t going to be any different just because Donald Trump had Attorney General Bill Barr corruptly intervene to change the sentencing guidelines. You’d have to be brainwashed by the doomsday pundits to the point of near hysteria to actually believe that Judge Jackson is going to give Stone a shorter prison sentence because of this laugh-out-loud ineffective stunt. But what happens when Stone does get the same prison sentence that Jackson was always going to give him?
That’s when Donald Trump will have a difficult decision to make. He’s clearly afraid that Roger Stone will seek revenge if he doesn’t find a way to help Stone. But Trump’s move today makes equally clear that Trump is very hesitant to pardon Stone, and he’s trying to find a way around it. If you’ve spent these past few years listening to actual legal experts, as opposed to the “magic pardon” hype on television, you’re aware of why Trump has never pardoned any of his co-conspirators.
If Trump pardons Roger Stone, or Michael Flynn, or any of his co-conspirators, it’ll trigger an immediate legal battle over pardon powers. Because no president has ever tried it, there’s almost no established precedent as to whether a president can pardon a co-conspirator, or a family member, or himself. If those questions do end up in court now, and the ruling comes down before the end of Trump’s term, he could end up being unable to try to pardon himself and his kids on his way out the door. There’s also the reality that people like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone (who has a secondary residence in New York City) would go down on state level charges in New York even if Trump did pardon them on federal charges. So why bother?
But because Roger Stone and Donald Trump have been personal friends for forty years, and because Stone basically collects dirt on his friends for a living, Trump has to worry that Stone could reveal some truly ugly things about Trump’s personal life. Trump has to weigh that against the sheer number of things that could go wrong if he pardons Stone.
We’re already seeing that Donald Trump’s mere decision to meddle in Roger Stone’s sentencing guidelines (which again, won’t actually reduce Stone’s sentence) has exploded into the kind of scandal that will dominate the 2020 election cycle. Trump just handed the Democrats a huge opening for the election. If Trump now turns around and pardons Stone, it’ll make that scandal ten times uglier. At this point you might as well root for Trump to pardon Stone. In such case Stone will still get what’s coming to him, and Trump will limp into the 2020 election in an even weaker position.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report