Everyone’s understood for many months that Stone will ultimately be pardoned but not until the last few weeks has the conventional wisdom shifted to him being pardoned soon. Real soon. Soon enough that I rescheduled some stuff to get this post up at 4 p.m. just in case the royal decree is handed down this afternoon, rendering this thread stale. Why the shift from the longstanding CW that Trump would wait until after the election to do it, when he no longer faces consequences from voters? It’s a combination of three things:
1. Trump’s acquittal on the Ukraine quid pro quo in the Senate, which taught him that he can do any shady thing he wants as president and will never face consequences from his party.
2. The DOJ’s decision not to charge Andrew McCabe, which reportedly infuriated a president who craves legal revenge on his enemies and isn’t getting much of it from “his” Justice Department. That may have convinced him to take direct action in criminal matters of interest to him.
3. The clemency spree a few days ago, embodied in the repulsive person of Rod Blagojevich, which proved that Trump now feels sufficiently confident about reelection that he’s willing to gross everyone out with dubious shows of mercy towards cronies even before the big vote.
My prediction is that he’ll wait to issue the pardon until Judge Jackson rules on Stone’s motion for a new trial due to partisan bias by the jury foreperson. No sense doing it before then, just in case the motion is granted. Then he and Stone can cite the fact that the court agrees with them that the prosecution was flawed before the pardon is duly issued. Until then, though, Team Stone is going to beg:
NEW: Roger Stone’s spokesperson calls on Trump to pardon Stone: “It falls on President Trump to use the power of a pardon as the final means of checks and balances to right this horrible wrong.” pic.twitter.com/09klIw4cTm
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) February 20, 2020
“It’s not a question of if,” said one former senior official to Politico this morning before the sentencing about the prospects of a pardon. “It’s when.”
Trump aides in the White House and circling around his 2020 reelection campaign say the president is just being cautious and heeding advice to at least wait to move on Stone until after the court process plays out a little bit more. And among people close to Stone, there’s high confidence that the president will remember the 35-plus year relationship the two men share and ultimately spare him from going to prison…
Stone and Trump have a history unlike anyone else around the president. They’ve known each other since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 White House campaign and maintained a rapport that includes Stone counseling Trump during four potential presidential runs and Trump hiring Stone as a lobbyist to represent his gambling, airline and hotel businesses.
In his most recent book, Stone boasted that he knew about Trump’s 2016 plans more than two years before the formal campaign announcement. And even after Trump and Stone officially parted ways not long after the campaign launch, the two continued speaking, with Stone serving as the campaign’s unofficial conduit to WikiLeaks, the controversial Julian Assange-led outfit that published scores of stolen emails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton during key moments of the presidential race.
I wonder how many Democrats, starting with Pelosi, wish in hindsight that they’d skipped impeachment over Ukraine and had it available to them for when Trump starts pardoning his buddies. Stone “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” said Jackson in court today. House Dems could have seized on that and impeached him for using the pardon power corruptly by extending it to a crony who’d “covered up for the president” himself. Maybe that impeachment would have been more popular than the Ukraine impeachment. (Realistically, could it have been *less* popular?) It certainly would have been more straightforward. And it would have forced Senate Republicans to defend the idea that there’s nothing wrong with the president freeing his own deputies from criminal convictions stemming from an investigation of his own campaign. No doubt they would have ended up defending it vigorously — I can easily picture Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham chanting “the pardon power is plenary” over and over in response to questions — but the politics might have been less forgiving for the GOP than they were for the convoluted Ukraine saga.
But you only get one shot at impeachment. And Trump knows it better than anyone.
So House Dems will have to grin and bear it when the pardon comes, and nervously assure themselves that our country’s gradual civic collapse isn’t so far gone yet that swing voters will just shrug off Trump pardoning one of his buddies after he was convicted by Bill Barr’s own Justice Department. Which brings me to the real mystery in this matter: What’s Barr going to do when Trump pardons Stone? In all likelihood he’ll roll over and start chanting about plenary powers too. He’s an ardent defender of executive prerogatives, after all, and Politico remembered that he strongly supported Bush 41 pardoning political cronies in the Iran-Contra affair. He’ll probably just shrug and say “It’s the president’s call.”
But he’s been noisy lately about how Trump’s meddling in criminal cases has made his job harder, and he said last week that he thought Stone’s prosecution and conviction was “righteous.” A pardon issuing without Stone serving a day in prison would make a joke of the Justice Department, signaling the president’s belief that Barr and his deputies had prosecuted him unjustly. How much more time and money should the DOJ waste in the future on investigating Trump favorites like Rudy Giuliani or Erik Prince, not knowing if Trump will step in at some point and undo all of their work with one pen stroke? Barr’s willing to do his best to investigate Trump’s enemies (see, e.g., the Durham probe) and to seek leniency for Trump’s allies (see, e.g., the revised sentencing recommendations for Stone and Mike Flynn) but he understandably resents Trump making him look like a schmuck in front of his own deputies with tweets that seem to imply that he’s doing POTUS’s bidding. Pardoning Stone would make him look like an even bigger schmuck, wiping away a successful conviction for reasons of presidential friendship no matter how much Trump wants to dress it up in the language of “unfairness.” In fact, to the extent that he defends the pardon on grounds that the prosecution was unfair rather than him just doing a solid for a buddy, he makes Barr look even worse. Why is his AG being so “unfair” to people? Maybe he should resign in disgrace.
But then we’d get someone worse. Everyone understands that too.
Here he is talking about pardoning Stone today. He’s going to let the process play out, he says — which I think is an allusion to waiting on Jackson to rule on his motion for a new trial, as I expected. Whether he’d also let the “process” play out if Stone loses the motion and has to go to prison while his appeals are pending is a different matter.
WATCH: President Trump speaks after Roger Stone's 40-month prison sentence: "I'm following this very closely, and I want to see it play out to its fullest, because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion." pic.twitter.com/nTaIDMIaGf
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020