And beyond being razed on the left for unethical behavior and abusing his powers of clemency, Trump has won his base’s support and fueled the narrative that the “deep state” was out to get him during the investigation into potential collusion in the 2016 election.
“I’m getting rave reviews for what I did for Roger Stone,” Trump told reporters Monday.
The move is raising hope for yet another MAGA victory: the possible pardon of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned as Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted to lying about the nature of his contacts with Russian officials and pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI.
“If I were the president, I’d pardon virtually every American caught up in this investigation,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch and who has criticized the Mueller probe for years.
And what the MAGA base wants, the Republican Party will attempt to deliver. Soon after Stone’s commutation, Sen. Lindsey Graham was telling Fox News that he might try dragging former special counsel Robert Mueller, whose work he once praised, back to Congress for a hearing.
The Russia collusion investigation was “probably one of the most corrupt investigations since J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI,” Graham told former GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy on his podcast during an episode released Tuesday. “I am hellbent on making sure that somebody investigates the investigators. The time has come for us to look at the other side of the story. Stay tuned. There’s going to be a lot of stuff [coming] out.”
Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and a National Review columnist, wasn’t about to let Trump off the hook for what he did for Stone.
“Even though I thought it was kind of a bulls— case, the seven felony convictions are supported by overwhelming evidence,” he said in an interview. “You’ve gotten a great deal of consideration from the Justice Department. So I thought it was a fair sentence and he shouldn’t have been commuted.”
Before the Friday night clemency, many aides inside the White House shared McCarthy’s position, believing the move would be unwise and politically dangerous. Stone himself, who has few friends inside the White House and the campaign, was not making the case any easier as he turned his attempts to avoid prison into a media frenzy, claiming his life would be endangered in prison because of his advanced age, his reputation and the center for disease control,Coronavirus, quarantine, symptoms, social distancing, virus protection, outbreak, coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus prevention, coronavirus explained, covid-19 news, covid-19 updates, covid-19 outbreak, corona, Peter Hotez, COVID-19 Vaccine, Center for Vaccine Development pandemic.
But thanks in part to a group of outside advisers exerting pressure over time, and his own insistence that Stone was the “victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt,” Trump overruled even his own attorney general, William Barr, who had called the prosecution “righteous” and Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s sentencing “fair,” despite the deliberate fights Stone picked with her during the trial — such as posting an Instagram image of her face in crosshairs. (He later claimed it was a Celtic symbol.)
Stone may have lied to Congress and federal investigators — something that Trump implicitly acknowledged by withholding a full pardon — but by offering clemency, Trump and his allies are trying to turn Stone into a martyr for their fight against the “deep state.” In the statement announcing the move, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany downplayed the nature of Stone’s convictions and instead leaned heavily into the narrative that Stone was a “victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”
Stone himself went a step further in his interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Monday night, describing himself as a scapegoat for the “horrific and deep-pocketed resources of the federal government and these really sadistic, arrogant, politically motivated prosecutors.”
“They knew there was no collusion. They knew it. And they knew it going into questioning him,” Fitton said. “He should never have even been before being questioned by the FBI or, frankly, Congress for that matter. It was abusive from the get-go.”
Only two GOP lawmakers criticized the move: Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Mitt Romney, who has become a critic of Trump from the right.
If one does have to bring up an issue with the commutation of Stone’s sentence among polite conservative society, there are a few outlets. Some acknowledge his guilt but point to a handful of other pardons given out by President Bill Clinton — to his brother for distributing cocaine, to witnesses in both the Whitewater and Kenneth Starr investigations — and Barack Obama, and argue that perhaps those were worse than what Trump did.
“It’s not like previous pardons where terrorists were let off,” Fitton said, referring to Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican terrorist who killed dozens of people in a series of 130 bombings throughout America and whose 70-year sentence Obama commuted in 2017.
Or, one could make it about the merits of the Mueller investigation, which, after two years, did not conclude that Trump and his campaign had colluded with Russia — a path that Republicans like Graham have alluded to revisiting but that MAGAworld, still obsessed with the travails of Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, would love to turn into a remake.
“There should be presumption that the Mueller investigations were corrupted. We have evidence of that in the sense that the prosecutors behind it were trying to put him in jail,” Fitton said.
Ignoring it, however, is the best option for a moderate Republican, suggested Tom Nichols, a professor, conservative and never-Trumper.
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“There has never been a case of a president buying silence about his own misdeeds with executive clemency,” he said. “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.”
McCarthy agreed that it was too politically volatile of a topic right now and that any attempt to criticize it was inviting political blowback. “People don’t want to be misunderstood as joining in that kind of overwrought criticism, especially under circumstances where, let’s face it, it’s a political season, and Trump is way down in the polls.” Indeed, Trump attacked Romney and Toomey after their comments, tweeting that they were “RINOs” — Republicans in name only.
Commuting Stone’s sentence, then, can be understood as a fail-safe way for Trump to shore up support in his highly specific base, much in the way that retweeting a QAnon account can be: It feeds into the narrative that Trump is fighting against a “deep state,” it undergirds Trump’s loyalty toward people who feel the same and help him in that quest. And considering that Trump wasn’t charged with collusion anyway, MAGAworld doesn’t think it’s a big deal to keep an old, sick man out of a “Covid-infested prison.”
“Is it something he shouldn’t have done? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No,” McCarthy said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s like a 2. So let’s not treat it like a 10.”
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