A former federal prosecutor defended President Donald Trump’s right to pardon Roger Stone as the president weighs whether to do so.
“He can pardon him anytime or he could commute the sentence, which is a different animal — it’s just saying that jail time is eliminated but the conviction still stands,” James Trusty told Fox News’ Harris Faulkner.
Trump left a pardon on the table Thursday after his friend was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstruction crimes stemming from the Robert Mueller “witch hunt” that Trump has so often derided. The possibility that Trump might grant clemency to his friend has set off a predictable backlash on the left, as Democrats and the liberal media warn that Trump is turning the Justice Department into a political weapon.
Prosecutor defends Trump’s right to pardon
President Trump has continually complained that Stone is the target of a “hoax” investigation and the victim of a double standard that has enabled his enemies, like James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Hillary Clinton, to evade prosecution. In his first comments since the sentencing, Trump did not commit to a pardon and said that he would prefer to let the process play out, but his anger at Stone’s treatment was evident as he criticized an “anti-Trump activist” on the jury and pointed out that McCabe and others who lied were never punished.
“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out,” the president said at a criminal justice reform event. “I think that is the best thing to do. Because I would love to see Roger exonerated, and I would love to see it happen. Because I personally think that he was treated very unfairly.”
Stone filed a motion for a new trial over alleged bias by the head juror in the case, who wrote anti-Trump and anti-Stone tweets before she was picked for the jury and again on the day of Stone’s conviction.
Trusty said that although Trump has the power to pardon Stone at any time, it would make more sense to let Judge Amy Berman Jackson make a decision on the motion first, saying:
I don’t see how it would ever be in the president’s interest to do that before the motion for a new trial is decided, because if there is a motion for a new trial that happens to be granted — and I think it’s uphill — then there’s a possibility that the [Department of Justice] decides not to retry him anyway, so it’d be kind of a waste.
Pardon scenario sparks backlash
As speculation over a pardon lingers, Democrats and the media dramatically warned that any such move by Trump would further damage the Justice Department’s “independence” and continue Trump’s alleged “weaponization” of the justice system. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who prosecuted the failed impeachment case against Trump, said that any pardon would be a “breathtaking act of corruption.”
It’s all part of a narrative that Trump, with the help of Attorney General Bill Barr, is smothering the rule of law as he doles out punishment to enemies and rewards loyal friends on a post-impeachment revenge tour. But Trump and many of his supporters say that the reality is just the opposite: that Stone is the victim of political prosecution by anti-Trump partisans in the “Deep State” who let Democrats off the hook for the same crimes.
Through the final days of Stone’s trial, Trump attacked the head juror and Stone’s treatment by the prosecutors and the Obama-appointed judge, Amy Berman Jackson. When the DOJ moved to lighten Stone’s punishment amid the background of Trump’s angry tweets, four prosecutors quit the case and Democrats joined more than 2,000 former DOJ lawyers demanding that Barr resign.
To some, the excessive punishment that was originally recommended for Stone — nine years maximum — and the seeming bloodlust of those calling that punishment just and fair, added to the impression that Stone was actually the target of a witch hunt whose real target is the president himself. Judge Jackson conceded that Stone’s original sentencing was too harsh, but she nevertheless rebuked Stone for trying to “cover-up” for Trump at his sentencing.
Stone was convicted in November for process crimes originating from Mueller’s probe, but Mueller did not find any proof of Russian collusion or any criminal plot by Stone to conspire with Russians. Trump shared a clip of Fox News host Tucker Carlson advocating Stone’s pardon this week, adding to the speculation.
Trump does, of course, have the right to pardon Stone, but Schiff and his ilk have made it clear by now that they see the president’s rise to power as a crime in and of itself. The president should ignore the partisan noise and right this wrong.