I’m reminded of the time when at the Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat, Der Fuhrer remarked to no one in particular (though Martin Bormann was in attendance) how a house in the distance spoiled the sweep and majesty of his mountain view. Within a week the house was gone. Hitler’s little cockroach Bormann had quietly arranged its removal.
Donald Trump recently tweeted about how unfair it was that Roger Stone should receive such a harsh sentencing recommendation from the prosecutors for his crimes. (Unfair in the sense that children are still unlawfully separated from their parents at the border, or unfair in the sense of the horror the innocent children endured when Donald Trump raped them then threatened to have their families murdered if they tell? Trump doesn’t say.) Trump’s little cockroach William Barr thereupon immediately and unilaterally changed the prosecutor’s recommendation from 7 to 9 years to 3 to 4 years.
First, a couple of things need to be made clear. There are three often inaccurate sentence predictors that a criminal will receive. The first is the statutory limit. That is the maximum sentence a judge is permitted to render by law. The second is the sentence recommended by prosecutors. The third is the sentence recommended by the defense.
When, for example, Bill Cosby was brought up on three counts of sexual assault, there was a lot of hopeful talk that he would get thirty years in prison because the statutory limit was ten years per count. That was wishful thinking, of course, but considering the fact that Cosby raped approximately one hundred women in his life it would have been a just sentence all the same. But the prosecutors asked for five to ten years. The defense asked for a custodial sentence at home. The judge sentenced Cosby to three to ten years. That’s how it works.
No one knows for certain how the judge in the case of the Roger Stone matter, Amy Berman Jackson, will react. But given her cool-headed, unflappable history of steady jurisprudence, I expect she will find a sentence somewhere between the original prosecution’s recommendation and the defendant’s lawyer’s recommendation, applying her same considered guidelines that she’s always used when sentencing defendants in the past. The sentence will be nowhere near the statutory maximum, of course. Many will see whatever her sentence turns out to be, therefore, as a sellout to Barr. This is almost certainly nonsense.
William Barr probably knows this. So, too, do the four prosecutors who resigned in protest. So what’s going on here? The game is largely a political, theoretical one, with all the points for moral rectitude going to the four prosecutors. Naturally, their withdrawal from the case (one of the four actually quit the government) was symbolic of their outrage at the corruption of this current administration, and good for them, I say. They did the right thing.
William Barr, on the other hand, who merits all the boos and hisses any despicable villain should hear as a constant leitmotif every time he mounts the stage, also knows that his recommendation probably won’t be taken seriously. He probably has even told Trump as much. The point is Roger Stone doesn’t know it, and it looks like his old buddy Donald Trump, through his pathetic running dog Barr, is stepping up to the plate and going to bat for him. The reality is if they were to resurrect the electric chair tomorrow and make Stone its very first victim Trump really wouldn’t give a crap. This is all part of Trump’s long range strategic plan, as, no doubt, carefully explained to him by Barr.
The game is this. By firing Colonel Vindman, his brother and Ambassador Sondland, Trump is taking tactical and immediate vengeance. By stepping up and appearing to help Roger Stone, Trump is sending a long range strategic message that he will use what power he has to reward the loyal. He may even wind up pardoning Stone, if it appears that it will do him more strategic good than harm.
In any case, Trump’s immediate and vicious punishments serve a strategic chilling effect on any in the rank and file who would dare blow a whistle or testify or speak truth to power. And the tactical examples he’s made of the Vindmans and Sondland is there to send a message to any and all that Donald Trump’s vengeance is terrible and swift.
Trump, of course, lacks the mind to understand these subtleties. Many of his handlers understand it, or ought to. Whether they understand it fully, that is, whether or not they have articulated in their own minds how this game is actually playing out, the end result is the same. Trump has a long range strategic message to prospective friends and enemies, and an immediate tactical means of retribution at the ready to destroy anyone who steps out of line.