“The defendant lied about a matter of great national and international significance. This is not campaign hijinks. This is not just Roger being Roger,” the judge said. “There was nothing unfair, phony, or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution.”
Those were inspiring words. Unfortunately, now the only question is whether it will take a few days or merely a few hours for Stone to get his pardon from Trump.
There will be a temptation, if that happens, to respond with “We all knew it was coming” or “Just another crazy day in Trumpland!”
But we must resist that temptation. We are witnessing the perversion of our justice system, along with so many other American institutions, for the whims of one immoral, corrupt man. We cannot treat it as anything other than the abomination it is.
Stone’s trial has illustrated a great deal about how Trump is corrupting our system. We saw how Attorney General William P. Barr intervened in the case, overruling the sentencing recommendation of Stone’s prosecutors to recommend a lighter sentence, leading to a mass withdrawal from the case in apparent protest.
The White House and Barr have both said the president and the attorney general did not have a conversation about the Stone sentencing. But that’s beside the point; they didn’t have to. Barr knows full well what Trump wants; all Barr has to do is read Trump’s Twitter feed, or look at everything that has happened over the course of his presidency.
Trump believes the justice system — both the courts and the Justice Department itself — is there to protect his friends and punish his enemies. When it doesn’t happen that way, he rages at how “unfair” it is, which in Trump’s lexicon means “not giving me what I want.”
Before the trial got underway, Stone himself, emulating his friend and patron, posted an image of Jackson with crosshairs near her head to his Instagram account, illustrating the contempt for fundamental norms that nearly all Republicans now embrace. The level of psychotic arrogance it takes to do that to the judge who will eventually determine how much time you’re going to spend behind bars is almost impossible to comprehend.
But perhaps Stone knew all along that if he got convicted, Trump would pardon him, so what does it matter? And now that he has been sentenced, he’s probably more sure than ever.
Earlier this week, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of a rogues’ gallery of white-collar criminals, all of whom had some personal connection to him or his friends. They included former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (a “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant), former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik (a friend of Rudy Giuliani and Fox News pundit), Michael Milken (a friend of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other Trump pals) and Paul Pogue (whose family gave $200,000 to Trump’s reelection).
And as The Post reports, Trump has moved to shut the Justice Department out of the clemency process and put it firmly in the hands of a group of White House cronies, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and including Pam Bondi. As attorney general of Florida, Bondi once took an illegal $25,000 contribution from Trump’s foundation for her PAC and then dropped an investigation into Trump University.
These are people who understand the true nature of justice and mercy.
Just after the 2016 election, journalist Masha Gessen drew on her experience in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to write a piece called “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” Her rule No. 3 was that “Institutions will not save you.” Trump will not tolerate institutions that act according to principles that transcend party, principles such as respect for the law. If an institution constrains or displeases him, he sets about to attack and discredit it, then to subvert it and, if possible, bend it to his personal interests and will.
When he pardons Stone, he will be sending a clear message: Your institutions mean nothing. I am the law, and I am the state. Just try to stop me.