Don’t you just hate having to defend someone you do not like? That is kind of how I feel about political gadfly and dirty trickster Roger Stone. I knew him in the old Nixon days when we were both young guys hanging around the White House. I did not like him then, and my opinion has not changed in the ensuing years.
Howsoever … what is happening to Stone should be of concern to every freedom loving American.
Now let us face it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not indict Stone because he thought it was worth thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to get the guy sent to prison for a few months for fibbing to investigators – if, in fact, Stone even did. What Mueller is doing is using – abusing? – the prosecutorial powers to get Stone to roll over and become a witness for the prosecution of the President of the United States. Prosecutors are like big game hunters. Mueller is just using Stone (and others) as bait to draw in the big prey.
Mueller does not even have to have a good case to win confessions or convictions – even when the targets are guilty. He has proven that in the past. It is within the power of the prosecutor to destroy a person long before they get to trial. The Special Counsel can drag an individual through a maze of legal maneuvers that will consume the financial resources of all but those in the upper echelons of Forbes’ billionaire list. He can destroy a reputation and the ability to make a living. He can put their families through Hell in both the courtroom and in the public media.
It is so easy to get indictments in our one-sided Grand Jury process – a system that very few countries employ – that it is jokingly said a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. But it is not funny if you are one of those ham sandwiches.
Stone, who had been expecting an indictment, was awakened at six in the morning by a squad of federal agents with flak jackets and high-power weapons. It was the kind of scene too reminiscent of those old World War II news films where Nazi Storm Troopers are dragging Jews from their homes.
No, I am not equating the two, but only questioning why such tactics would be necessary in America. Stone, for all his faults, is neither an escape risk nor a violent man. Two agents in suits would have accomplished the same mission without the theatrics. But what about the theatrics?
For reasons yet to be explained, CNN was on the scene with the feds to capture the drama for the later newscast. How they were privy to the timing and location should also be troubling. Was all the firepower staged for the benefit of the press?
Then there is the indictment itself. Basically, it alleges that Stone lied in sworn testimony before Congress and when interrogated by the Mueller team. How serious and intentional these lies might have been, we do not know – and it will take a trial to find out.
Stone was also charged with obstruction of justice in connection with witness tampering and concealing evidence. While these may sound terribly serious, such charges are often a matter of opinion – and far less material than prosecutors allege. We need to remember that Paul Manafort was charged with witness tampering by simply telling a friend, and potential government witness, what he, Manafort, was telling the Mueller folks. He did not ask or demand his friend say the same. He did not threaten his friend. Ironically, when lawyers advise witnesses what to say and not say, it is called legal advice.
Such charges also lend themselves to political spin. Barely hours after Stone’s arrest, Delaware Democrat Senator Chris Coons was on MSNBC offering up the most Draconian interpretation of the indictments. He said it “shows that people surround Trump in the campaign were involved in criminal activities.” Coons called it “a textbook case of conspiracy and collusion” by the Trump campaign.
None of that is factually true, and Coons must know it. He spun to the point of prevarication. Nothing in Stone’s indictment ties to the Trump campaign in terms of Russian collusion. All … repeat, all … the alleged criminal activity – the lies and obstruction of justice – came long after the campaign. If true, they were crimes that Stone, and Stone alone, committed in more recent months.
What was not the subject of an indictment is as important as what was. There was no indictment for attempting to procure dirt that Wikileaks’ Julian Assange might have had on the Clinton campaign. There was no indictment for securing illegally obtained documents – which is a common professional practice for the news media. That is because they are not crimes.
Personally, I find the practice of charging people for lying during an investigation in which there is no serious underlying chargeable crime to be an abuse of power. Only in the Dungeons and Dragons world of arbitrary legal rules does it make sense to charge someone with obstruction of justice when there is no crime to be addressed and no justice to be obstructed. But that is just me.
We cannot know how the Stone saga will turn out. Maybe he is guilty of criminal activity. Maybe he is being politically prosecuted, as he claims. Maybe he will beat the rap. But the ending of this production may be less important than the means by which we get there.
So, there ‘tis.