President Trump has commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “Roger Stone is 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.”
But the congressional investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election was a lawful inquiry and, in my view, a legitimate one. Republicans and Democrats were both on board with this investigation. Moreover, even if one thinks Congress shouldn’t have investigated, or should have gone about the investigation differently, that’s not an excuse for Stone to obstruct it.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Barr said, “I think the prosecution was righteous and I think the sentence the judge ultimately gave was fair.” I agree with Barr.
Trump did not pardon Stone. Stone will serve no time, but his conviction stands unless overturned by the courts.
The White House explained that Stone “maintains his innocence and has stated that he expects to be fully exonerated by the justice system.” Thus, “the President does not wish to interfere with [Stone’s] efforts [to clear his name]” as a pardon would have done.
Why not let Stone serve time while he pursues his appeals? The White House cited Stone’s age, saying he would be at medical risk in prison during this period of time.
Stone is 67 years old. Ordinarily, a 67 year-old could serve time in prison without jeopardizing his health. But maybe he has a medical condition that justifies Trump’s stated concern.
The commutation of Stone’s sentence will be portrayed as Trump thwarting the judicial system in order to do a favor for a friend. Unless a specific medical justification is demonstrated, that’s also how it looks to me.
UPDATE: Anticipating expressions of outrage over the commutation by members of the leniency for felons crowd, Bill Otis writes:
My point. . .is simply to note that sentencing “reformers” are giving us an important clue about their underlying thinking when they apply one set of standards — those supposedly taking root in compassion — to smack pushers and street hoodlums, and a different set, rooted in the very same cynical, cold-hearted and punitive outlook they’ve spent years upbraiding, to an unappetizing defendant who has the misfortune of being an ally of a President they detest.
Bill’s point is well taken. But since I’m not a sentencing reformer and don’t detest President Trump, I’m sticking with my criticism of the decision to commute Stone’s sentence.