“Unprecedented, historic corruption,” says Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the last Republicans with a moral compass. Romney was objecting to “an American president commut(ing) the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
It was just a week ago — a lifetime in American politics — that Donald Trump commuted the sentence of convicted felon Roger Stone, his longtime associate and the man who conspired with Wikileaks to release hacked emails intended to damage the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
Considering the entirety of the craven, corrupt, contemptable 42-month Trump presidency, the Stone commutation is clearly the single most obvious — and despicable — Trumpian abuse of presidential power, at least that we know of. History is sure to record it as the most corrupt act by any president, Richard Nixon included.
Curious thing: We knew all along that Trump would engage in this corruption in plain sight. He long ago signaled to Stone that if the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” kept his mouth shut about what he knows, Trump would keep him out of jail.
“But the predictable nature of Trump’s action should not obscure its rank corruption,” as Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes wrote at the Lawfare website. “In fact, the predictability makes the commutation all the more corrupt, the capstone of an all-but-open attempt on the president’s part to obstruct justice in a self-protective fashion over a protracted period of time. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually not. Trump publicly encouraged Stone not to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, he publicly dangled clemency as a reward for silence, and he has now delivered. The act is predictable precisely because the corrupt action is so naked.”
Or as former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance White wrote in USA Today, putting a fine point on Trump’s corruption: “Roger Stone knows too much for Donald Trump to permit him to spend a single night in prison. Stone has always known that. The final piece of evidence Mueller didn’t have, but that the American people now possess — Trump provided it himself when he commuted Stone’s sentence.”
Let’s recap, since it seems like a decade ago that special counsel Robert Mueller, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and former FBI director, issued his report about Russian interference in the last presidential election. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Mueller established that Russian military intelligence officers hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, as well as others at the Democratic National Committee. (It was Watergate just without the five clumsy burglars who were caught in the act in 1972.) The Russian behavior was also confirmed by the nation’s intelligence agencies and congressional committees.
In turn, Mueller gained indictments against 13 Russians and three different Russian organizations. But, of course, Vladimir Putin, protected at every turn by an American president — even when he’s placing bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan — would never let his agents be extradited so Mueller needed Americans involved in the plot to reveal what they know. Stone refused to cooperate, then lied to Congress while one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, hoping for his own pardon, also kept quiet. Trump, too, refused to cooperate with Mueller beyond limited written answers that prominently featured phrases like “I don’t recall.”
Numerous commentators, including George Will — about as far from a liberal as one can find — have equated this corrupt farce to the behavior of a mob boss and his underlings. Yet, a Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone seem almost professional compared to Stone and Manafort, “dregs from the bottom of the Republican barrel” in the words of Will.
But, a week on from the late Friday night when we learned about this “unprecedented, historic corruption,” Trump’s corrupted Republican Party is moving on, willing once again in silence to embrace ethical depravity merely to serve the amoral conman in the White House.
Imagine the mental jujitsu necessary for a Republican such as Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, to look the other way at such corruption. Think about the kind of political Kool-Aid a guy like Idaho’s Jim Risch is drinking — he never speaks, after all, without reminding us that he was once a prosecutor — in order to stomach the Stone fiasco?
“There has never been a case of a president buying silence about his own misdeeds with executive clemency,” Tom Nichols, the Never Trump conservative told Politico. “Other presidents have made bad and even corrupt calls with pardons, but this is in a class by itself, which is why the Republicans are either staying quiet or trying to play the ‘whataboutism’ game.”
But the old Republican game of covering for Trump is growing tiresome and increasingly ineffective. Trumpian incompetence, with the country closing in on 140,000 COVID-19 deaths and the administration’s response reduced to trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, isn’t going to get the economy back in operation or the kids back in school.
Trumpian corruption — commuting Stone’s felony sentence for lying, while hounding out of the military Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who risked his career for telling the truth – represents the perfect bookends for this collection of ethically devoid Republican political cowards. The stink extends from Maine to Idaho.
Roger Stone has been a political bottom feeder since he helped found the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in the 1970s, the group that stormed into Idaho in 1979 to smear the record and reputation of Sen. Frank Church. Once a sleaze, always a sleaze. That’s Roger Stone. He’ll go to his just rewards branded a convicted felon who lied and schemed to protect the man who has burned down the Republican Party. He’ll be remembered as a crook, just like the Republicans who countenance him and the man he’s protecting.
In a few months’ time, Republicans such as Cornyn, Risch, Mike Crapo and a hundred others will be trying to convince us they hardly knew Donald Trump. They’ll hope their 42 months of silence will cover their complicit tracks. It won’t work. They’re dirty, too, just like their leader, their careers stunted and warped by their gutlessness in the face of all this corruption and incompetence.
All that’s left is to ask them not just how could you live with such deceit and decay, but how can you live with yourself?
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.