Charging and trying Roger Stone for crimes was never going to be an orthodox legal process. This is the man with a Richard Nixon tattoo on his upper back and who emerged from his first hearing doing the Nixon “V” salute. He frequents the conspiracy-theory-hawking Infowars. And he proudly calls himself a political “dirty trickster.”
But even for Roger Stone, attacking his own judge on Instagram is a highly questionable — and suspect — strategy. Yet that’s what happened this weekend. After Stone posted an Instagram image of Judge Amy Berman Jackson with what appeared to be crosshairs above her head (Stone denies they are crosshairs), his attorneys apologized Monday in a court filing.
That apology, though, doesn’t appear to have brought the matter to an end. Jackson has ordered Stone back to court Thursday to explain why she shouldn’t revoke or change the details of his release. (Stone is out on $250,000 bail.)
In other words: Stone appears to be creating some completely unnecessary legal drama for himself even with prison time hanging over his head.
But in that distinction, he has good company in Trumpworld. Both Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn have engaged in similarly questionable behavior when their fates were up in the air.
Flynn’s attorneys recently tried to argue before his sentencing that he had been treated unfairly by investigators and even tricked into lying to them. But the judge excoriated Flynn and his attorneys and made sure Flynn admitted that he knew it was wrong to lie and that he was taking responsibility for his actions. (The judge even suggested that he might give Flynn jail time, despite special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team not recommending any for Flynn, who has cooperated with them and other investigations.)
As for Manafort, he has now been found to have lied to investigators despite and after reaching a deal to cooperate. Those lies could extend his prison sentence by years.
There is a common thread running through all of these instances, and it’s this: All three men have engaged in bizarre conduct that raises questions about precisely what they were thinking and why they might do what they did. All three men opened themselves up to more time behind bars. And all three men’s actions could benefit President Trump.
In the cases of both Stone and Flynn, their actions have sought to undermine the investigative and legal processes that are holding each man accountable. By attacking Jackson as an Obama appointee, Stone is giving Trump supporters reason to believe he is being railroaded by a partisan judge — a regular fixture of Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. In the case of Flynn, he was giving them reason to doubt the severity of lying to investigators and the prosecution of Trump allies — also a fixation of Trump’s.
With Manafort, the question for months has been why he would lie. Why was a man who had already been convicted on eight counts and faced years in prison — and then cut a deal — violating that deal? Was there something big and harmful that he was protecting? And why was Manafort’s legal team continuing to brief Trump’s team even after cutting a deal — a highly unorthodox setup that reportedly infuriated Mueller’s team.
It’s tempting to view all of this as these men angling for pardons. If they can use their legal dilemmas to undermine the process and thereby help Trump, perhaps he will be grateful and free them from their sentences.
The idea that Trump would be able to pardon any or all of them, though, and survive politically is a dicey one at best. Perhaps these are just unwieldy Trump aides who can’t help but lash out, creating unnecessary drama. Both Stone and Flynn have done some very strange things that caused people to scratch their heads before. And Manafort is clearly a very desperate man.
Whatever the cause, there is an emerging pattern here.