Yesterday, Donald Trump publicly praised Roger Stone for refusing to testify against him, in a not so thinly veiled instance of felony witness tampering. Stone then publicly thanked Trump accordingly. Now, in a move that’s not necessarily surprising, yet still significant, Roger Stone is pleading the Fifth.
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein just revealed that Roger Stone is invoking the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid testifying before the committee or providing relevant Trump-Russia documents. The bone of contention: Stone wants to testify in public, presumably so he can blast his phony conspiracy theories all over the cable news airwaves, while plugging his deranged new book. The committee is demanding that Stone testify in private, for obvious reasons. So now what?
Legally speaking, invoking the Fifth Amendment is not an admission of guilt. Instead it’s a way of saying that you’re not willing to help the government demonstrate your guilt, and that if they want to do so, they’re going to have to do it without your cooperation. The Senate now has a few options.
The Senate can hold Stone in contempt, and try to convince a federal judge that Stone wouldn’t be violating his Fifth Amendment rights if he is forced to testify. In that scenario, Stone could end up in jail for contempt. Not that we expect Donald Trump actually do something as stupid as start trying to pardon Trump-Russia people, but it’s worth pointing out that the president cannot pardon someone for being in contempt of Congress. Another option is for the Senate to simply ignore Stone at this point, as Robert Mueller appears poised to move on him.
One thing to keep in mind is that, just yesterday, Robert Mueller informed Congress that it can move forward with interviewing witnesses in Donald Trump’s scandals, because he’s finished with his obstruction investigation. That said, Roger Stone is primarily caught up in the Trump-Russia election conspiracy, as opposed to the post-election obstruction conspiracy. So are these two related? Stay tuned, there are moving pieces everywhere today.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report