Saturday, July 11, 2020


That makes sense. David Frum explains:
It is not illegal for a U.S. citizen to act or attempt to act as a go-between between a presidential campaign and a foreign intelligence agency, and Stone was not charged with any crime in conjunction with his Trump-WikiLeaks communications. But it’s a different story for the campaign itself. At a minimum, the Trump campaign was vulnerable to charges of violating election laws against receiving things of value from non-U.S. persons. Conceivably, the campaign could have found itself at risk as some kind of accessory to the Russian hacks—hacking being a very serious crime indeed. So it was crucial to the Trump campaign that Stone keep silent and not implicate Trump in any way.

Which is what Stone did. Stone was accused of—and convicted of—lying to Congress about his role in the WikiLeaks matter. Since Stone himself would have been in no legal jeopardy had he told the truth, the strong inference is that he lied to protect somebody else. Just today, this very day, Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman why he lied and whom he was protecting. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.” You read that, and you blink. As the prominent Trump critic George Conway tweeted: “I mean, even Tony Soprano would have used only a pay phone or burner phone to say something like this.” Stone said it on the record to one of the best-known reporters in Washington. In so many words, he seemed to imply: I could have hurt the president if I’d rolled over on him. I kept my mouth shut. He owes me.

And sure enough, Trump did owe him.
I'm not sure why Trump hesitated (or why, as Yastreblyansky says, he still seems reluctant to pardon Manafort), and I'm not sure why he believed the commutation should be done sneakily, late on a Friday. Pro-Trump partisans are delighted. Ani-Trump partisans are livid. Everyone else ... well, I can't prove this, but it's my sense that folks in the middle find all these scandals abstruse and irrelevant to their lives. Trump's poll numbers barely budged in the months following the completion and release of the Mueller report; Ukrainegate and impeachment gave Trump a small poll bump. These matters didn't seem to mean much to people who aren't obsessed with politics before March of this year; now, with the pandemic, the economic downturn, and the growing racial justice movement, these matters seem even more distant from most Americans' concerns.

But Trump watches hours of cable news every day, so he probably believed that everyone would react the way politics junkies are reacting. I assume that's why he felt the need for trial balloons. (He retweeted a call for a Stone pardon on June 27 and told an interviewer this week that Stone's "prayer may be answered.")

There was no reason to hesitate. The communtation confirms what critics already assumed about Trump -- that he's a congenital criminal running a lawless administration. He might as well issue all the pardons and commutations he has in mind now. They won't change anyone's mind about him.

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