The legal landscape is littered with the destruction wrought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his “hit squad” of partisan prosecutors.
By commuting the prison sentence of Roger Stone on Friday, President Trump took a justified step in rectifying an egregious wrong. The president’s decision was also a compassionate gesture toward a 67-year old man who is not in the best of health and would have entered a federal prison system Tuesday that is struggling to contain the deadly coronavirus that is especially virulent for older Americans.
Illegitimately appointed under federal regulations, Mueller employed a scorched-earth strategy to bully, intimidate, and threaten people like former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos into coerced guilty pleas.
Mueller’s ultimate goal was to get these people to incriminate President Trump for imaginary crimes based on invented evidence of Russian “collusion” to steal the 2016 presidential election. But they didn’t. There was nothing incriminating. But the truth was irrelevant to the special counsel.
Mueller didn’t care that it was all a hoax and that the supposed “evidence” was phony. He was more than willing to force people to lie to falsely implicate Trump.
People associated with the president — like conservative radio host Jerome Corsi and former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland — were put in a room and threatened with years behind bars if they declined to capitulate. But they refused to lie and no charges were brought against them because there was no evidence they had done anything wrong.
Indeed, Mueller never charged anyone with a “collusion” conspiracy, since it never actually happened.
Roger Stone also resisted. But his punishment by Mueller was a 24-page indictment and jackbooted tactics during an early morning arrest at his home,
Twenty-nine FBI agents wearing tactical gear and wielding M4 rifles, swept across Stone’s lawn. Four agents used a battering ram to break down his front door and then pointed rifle barrels at Stone’s head.
A helicopter hovered above, and two police boats roared up to the back yard of Stone’s home. The bust was shown live on CNN, which just happened to be there at 6 a.m.
The bizarre raid was not designed to capture an armed and dangerous criminal, but rather a writer, self-promoter and longtime friend of Trump. The feds knew that Stone had no criminal record, owned no firearms, and had an expired passport and thus was not dangerous or a flight risk.
But that wasn’t the point. The objective was to scare the hell out of Stone so that he might say something damaging about Trump, even if it was a complete fabrication. It was the equivalent of suborning perjury.
Mueller’s abusive wielding of power in the arrest of Stone revealed the rot at the heart of the entire Russia investigation. It was, as Trump tweeted at the time, the “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers, and Human Traffickers are treated better.”
The indictment of Stone was a gaseous windbag of a document. It told of a tantalizing story about Trump, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The indictment suggested that Stone might have had some advance knowledge or inside information about the contents of hacked Hillary Clinton campaign emails that were released by WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.
“Advance knowledge” is not a crime, by the way. Hence, all the froth boiled down to allegations of what are known as “process crimes” — obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.
I don’t want to minimize or condone process crimes. No person should ever lie, mislead, or obstruct a legitimate law enforcement investigation. But Mueller’s probe was far from legitimate.
Moreover, none of the charges had anything to do with Trump-Russia “collusion.” It was not alleged that Stone had conspired with Russians to hack or steal documents.
Instead, Stone stood accused of reaching out to WikiLeaks and asking others to do so — as did hundreds of journalists in the summer of 2016, myself included. That is not a crime. If it was, I’d be composing this column behind bars.
An examination of Stone’s emails showed that he provided little more than the same information that WikiLeaks had already stated publicly. Stone speculated that the Clinton emails would be damaging. But that was stating the obvious.
By trying to insert himself into the action, Stone created the appearance that he knew more than he did — a frequent habit of his.
Mueller’s job was to uncover crimes that had occurred before he was appointed. But his investigation generated or created the charges against Stone. This invites the question: did Stone lie or make false statements?
Stone insisted that he had forgotten about some of the documents and conversations he had been asked to recount, saying: “I am human and I did make some errors.”
Did Stone threaten a witness? Stone claimed his statements were jocular and taken wildly out of context.
Although he pleaded not guilty, Stone was convicted by a jury in Washington in November.
If you are a friend of Trump, getting a fair trial in the District of Columbia is a challenge, if not an impossibility, especially in a politically charged case. In the last presidential election, 90.5 percent of the ballots in the nation’s capital were cast in favor of Hillary Clinton. A scant 4.1 percent of votes were cast for Trump.
Suspicions of a wrongful conviction against Stone became more acute when new evidence emerged after his trial that justice may have been undone by a jury foreperson who harbored a disqualifying bias.
Tomeka Hart, the foreperson, is a Democratic activist who voiced extreme anti-Trump opinions that were largely concealed during jury selection. Before she was ever picked for the trial, Hart posted numerous social media comments highly critical of Trump and actively engaged in protests against him.
Even worse, in a string of posts Hart commented negatively about the Stone case itself, praised the Mueller investigation and suggested that the president and his supporters (such as Stone) were racists.
Hart referred to Trump with the hashtag “klanpresident.” She should never, under any circumstances, have been sitting in judgment of Stone. Hart must have known this, inasmuch as she is a lawyer.
As I pointed out in a previous column, Hart’s record is indicative of a manifest prejudice against Stone by virtue of his close association with Trump. Because Hart was the foreperson who had the ability to guide and even induce other jurors to convict Stone, it is likely that he was deprived of his constitutional right to an impartial jury and a fair trial,
Predictably, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, denied a motion for a new trial for Stone.
The judge blamed Stone’s attorneys for not uncovering evidence of bias before the trial commenced. Under the law, that is not an excuse for refusing to overturn a tainted conviction by granting a new trial.
When our imperfect system of justice fails the president is constitutionally empowered to issue either a pardon or a commutation. Indeed, he may do so for either a good reason or no reason at all.
President Trump did not pardon Stone, which would have absolved him of his convicted crimes. Rather, Trump commuted Stone’s sentence of 40 months in prison.
Stone’s convictions will stand, unless a higher court reverses them on appeal. The political and media backlash will be severe, to be sure. But that has never deterred Trump before and should not in the future.
The contorted case of Roger Stone is a sad coda to the work of Robert Mueller. As Trump tweeted last month, Stone was “a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history. He can sleep well at night!”
Stone has suffered enough, He deserves to sleep in his own bed.