To their number we can now add Roger Stone, who has been convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice in a trial relating to the 2016 Trump campaign’s connections to WikiLeaks, the vehicle used by Russia to disseminate the information it hacked from Democratic Party systems to help elect Trump president.
Though Stone departed from his official campaign role early on, he remained in constant touch with the future president. Prosecutors documented some 60 phone calls between Stone and Trump between February 2016 and November 2016.
What we learned from Stone’s trial is that the campaign of the man (Trump) who openly called on Russia to plunder his opponent’s emails (“Russia, if you’re listening”) did far more than even the special counsel documented to reap the gains of Russia’s attack on our democracy.
Stone’s convictions stem from the fact that he made extensive efforts to cover up that collusion, to protect Trump from further political damage. That is, to help Trump get away with it.
The trial revealed that Stone regularly communicated with WikiLeaks about when emails stolen by Russia would be released, and kept people inside the Trump campaign, and Trump himself, informed of the effort. And Stone was convicted of taking multiple steps to deceive Congress and investigators in ways that distanced himself and the Trump campaign from those facts.
One of the most dramatic moment of the trial came when Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, described being in a car with Trump on July 31, 2016 as the candidate had a phone conversation with Stone about forthcoming email dumps. After hanging up, Trump announced that “more information” would soon be released. Trump has claimed that he has no recollection of discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.
Trump’s response underscores his corruption
At the center of this whole saga all along has been a simple truth: Trump never thought there was anything wrong with benefiting to the greatest degree possible from a foreign attack on our political system, because, well, he was personally benefiting from it, which made it a good thing.
Trump wants to do it again. The president blithely told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that he’d gladly seek to gain from more of the same. And literally the day after the special counsel’s testimony persuaded him that he’d gotten away with it, Trump held his call with the Ukrainian president, and sought to extort a new round of foreign assistance in rigging the next election, something for which he will likely be impeached.
You see, only Trump’s opponents — that is, only those who are disloyal to Trump — can do wrong. Here’s how Trump responded to the Stone conviction:
....A double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
It’s important to appreciate how deeply dangerous this sentiment really is. The difference between Stone and those figures mentioned by Trump is that Stone committed crimes and has been convicted for them, while those others have not.
Trump’s constant use of disinformation warfare, and his serial attacks on the justice system, are all about trying to erode people’s ability to make this basic distinction, that is, to erode their faith that the justice system can actually parcel out real justice.
Trump has long sought to turn law enforcement loose against his political enemies, especially those listed in his tweet. Simply through force of propaganda and serial lying, Trump hopes to make the legitimate conviction of Stone, and the legitimate investigations into his own corruption, into the exact equivalent of what he would like to see the machinery of justice illegitimately do to his enemies.
The possibility of a Stone pardon
We don’t have any idea whether Trump will pardon Stone. But it’s a real possibility, precisely because it would be in keeping with the very worldview he articulated in response to Stone’s conviction.
“I think there’s a chance Trump pardons him and Manafort,” former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade told us. “They both have been loyal to him. His pardon power is absolute when it comes to federal offenses.”
That would be a tremendous abuse of the pardon power, of course, but it would go to the deeper core of Trump’s corruption of our political system, as well.
“Stone was convicted on seven counts, all relating in one way or another to lying and obstruction of justice,” McQuade continued. “To be pardoned for that kind of behavior says the rule of law doesn’t matter, that loyalty to the president is all that does matter. It would set an incentive for people in future administrations to recognize that loyalty to the person who holds the pardon power is the most important thing — even more important than adhering to the rule of law.”
Stone will now face justice, at least in the short term. But we still have no idea just how much damage Trump’s continuing corruption has in store for us.