Naah. I mean — naaah, can’t possibly happen. Right? At least, not before the election …?
Politico wonders whether a clemency action for Ghislaine Maxwell is in the cards after an exchange at the end of Donald Trump’s coronavirus press briefing yesterday. A reporter asked about Maxwell’s case and tossed in the names of Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton as a sweetener.
Trump declined to talk about the other two men. However, he had some kind words for Maxwell, who’s being prosecuted in connection for trafficking underage girls in a sex ring for Jeffrey Epstein. It might have been a good opportunity for a “no comment” instead:
Q And my follow-up — my second question; it’s a little bit different topic, but it’s one that a lot of people are talking about. Ghislaine Maxwell is in prison, and so a lot of people want to know if she’s going to turn in powerful people. And I know you’ve talked in the past about Prince Andrew, and you’ve criticized Bill Clinton’s behavior. I’m wondering, do you feel that she’s going to turn in powerful men? How do you see that working out?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know. I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach and I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well, whatever it is. I don’t know the situation with Prince Andrew. I just don’t know. I’m not aware of it.
Ahem. Trump does like to riff at the podium and marches to his own drummer at times, but this seems inexplicable. He might be the only person in America, save Maxwell’s dwindling supply of friends, who would publicly “wish her well.” The most charitable impulse most Americans have toward Maxwell is to wish her justice — and probably more in the vein of I hope you get what’s coming to you. If Trump wants to connect to voters, bon mots toward Maxwell isn’t going to cut it.
The exchange got Politico wondering whether Trump is one of that dwindling supply of Maxwell friends. Trump has a habit of intervening in his friends’ legal woes, Matthew Choi writes, and at least one federal prosecutor tells him that it sounds like Trump’s laying the groundwork for a pardon. The unnamed prosecutor also speculated that friendship might not be the basis for it:
Trump’s comment raised eyebrows at the Justice Department, with one prosecutor noting the president didn’t comment on the death of the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey, whose family was attacked on Sunday by a gunman dressed as a courier at their front door.
“The president has nothing to say about a gun-toting madman who just murdered the son of a federal judge. But he takes time out of his press conference to send well wishes to a woman accused of trafficking teenager girls for sex,” the prosecutor told POLITICO.
Referring to Trump’s granting clemency to his former adviser Roger Stone, the prosecutor said: “That’s gross on its face, and in the aftermath of the Stone pardon, it reeks of the president indicating to her that he might reward her if she’ll stay silent about whatever she knows about him.”
That’s connecting up a whole lot of dots that likely don’t exist. For one thing, Trump didn’t pardon Stone — he commuted Stone’s sentence. A commutation would be months away if not years for Maxwell, and it wouldn’t do much for keeping Maxwell silent about whatever dirt she speculatively might have on Trump. Stone’s happy enough about his commutation, but Trump still had him go through the trial first.
Also, this was a response to a question, not something Trump took “time out of his press conference” to address. The reporter made it part of the press conference. Trump should have declined the question (and recognized the trap the reporter was laying), but it wasn’t an unprompted part of a rambling rally speech either. Neither did Trump argue that Maxwell was being treated unfairly by prosecutors, a point Trump made repeatedly in defense of Stone throughout the prosecution (and with Michael Flynn as well). Finally, there are a lot more dots connecting the Clintons to Maxwell and Epstein, including more than two dozen flights on the Lolita Express for Bill, than there are with Trump.
A pardon would be political suicide. Trump pandered to his base with Stone’s commutation, but he let the conviction stand. Maxwell’s trial will drag out into next year, most likely, as the defense works on dismissals and other pretrial demands. By that time, Trump will be past the election, which makes the risk of any disclosures more or less moot. Maxwell has no connection to any political base, so where’s the political benefit for it?
Still, this reminds us why the White House stopped having daily presidential briefings on COVID-19. Trump would often go wildly off-topic, turning the events into rally speeches and opening up all sorts of other attacks on him. Yesterday’s briefing was much more disciplined, but Trump still hasn’t learned to recognize a trap and keep from walking into it. The best answer on questions regarding ongoing prosecutions is “no comment.”