Casting The Stone: How Many Ignore History To Condemn The Stone Commutation As Unprecedented

Roger-Stone-following-House-Intel-hearing
YouTube Screenshot

Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the commutation of the sentence of Roger Stone and the objections from various commentators and politicians that it was an unprecedented abuse of this constitutional power.  The political outcry was predictable but it was also accompanied by an ahistorical treatment in Congress and the press. Many leaders lined up to cast the first Stone comment on how it was an unprecedented act despite their own relative silence during past abuses of presidential clemency. Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the commutation was “an act of staggering corruption” for someone who “could directly implicate him in criminal misconduct.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff declared that the commutation left him “nauseous.Of course, Pelosi, Schiff, and other Democrats seemed to have greater stability and intestinal fortitude after Bill Clinton’s pardoning of his own brother (Roger Clinton), a fugitive Democratic donor (Marc Rich), or his longtime friend (Susan McDougal) who was convicted in an investigation that implicated both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Likewise, Mitt Romney seemed to echo Toobin’s view (below) in declaring this an “unprecedented, historic corruption” when “an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.” However, Romney long heralded his respect and support of President George H.W. Bush despite Bush’s executive clemency actions for six former senior government officials implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Bush himself was implicated in that scandal and some alleged was protected by their silence. Nevertheless, this Society of Historical Revisionism appears to be expanding with members expressing utter shock at the notion of a president abusing the pardon power.  There were no calls for investigations or new legislation from these politicians at the time.  So, to paraphrase John 8:7, let he or she “without sin among you,”  cast the first Stone criticism.

Here is the column:

Washington was sent into vapors of shock and disgust with news of the commutation of Roger Stone. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin declared it to be “the most corrupt and cronyistic act in all of recent history.” Despite my disagreement with the commutation, that claim is almost quaint. The sordid history of pardons makes it look positively chaste in comparison. Many presidents have found the power of pardons to be an irresistible temptation when it involves family, friends, and political allies.

I have maintained that Stone deserved another trial but not a pardon. As Attorney General William Barr has said, this was a “righteous prosecution” and Stone was correctly convicted and correctly sentenced to 40 months in prison. President Trump did not give his confidant a pardon but rather a commutation, so Stone is still a convicted felon. However, Trump should have left this decision to his attorney general. In addition to Stone being a friend and political ally, Trump was implicated in those allegations against Stone. While there was never any evidence linking Trump to the leaking of hacked emails, he has an obvious conflict of interest in the case.

The White House issued a statement that Stone is “a victim of the Russia hoax.” The fact is that Stone is a victim of himself. Years of what he called his “performance art” finally caught up with him when he realized federal prosecutors who were not amused by his antics. Stone defines himself as an “agent provocateur.” He crossed the line when he called witnesses to influence their testimony and gave false answers to investigators.

But criticism of this commutation immediately seemed to be decoupled from any foundation in history or in the Constitution. Indeed, Toobin also declared, “This is simply not done by American presidents. They do not pardon or commute sentences of people who are close to them or about to go to prison. It just does not happen until this president.” In reality, the commutation of Stone barely stands out in the old gallery of White House pardons, which are the most consistently and openly abused power in the Constitution. This authority under Article Two is stated in absolute terms, and some presidents have wielded it with absolute abandon.

official_presidential_portrait_of_thomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800Thomas Jefferson pardoned Erick Bollman for violations of the Alien and Sedition Act in the hope that he would testify against rival Aaron Burr for treason. After the intervention of powerful friends, Andrew Jackson stopped the execution of George Wilson in favor of a prison sentence despite Wilson’s guilt in a serious violent crimes (for which his co-defendant was executed). Wilson surprised everyone by opting to be hanged anyway. However, Wilson could not hold a candle to Ignazio Lupo, one of the most lethal mob hitmen who was needed back in New York during a mafia war. Warren Harding, who along with his attorney general, Harry Daugherty, was repeatedly accused of selling pardons. With the bootlegging business hanging in the balance, they decided to pardon “Lupo the Wolf” on the condition that he be a “law abiding” free citizen.

964px-Harry_S_Truman,_bw_half-length_photo_portrait,_facing_front,_1945Franklin Roosevelt also pardoned political allies, including Conrad Mann, who was a close associate of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Pendergast made a fortune off illegal alcohol, gambling, and graft, and helped send Harry Truman into office. Truman also misused this power, including pardoning the extremely corrupt George Caldwell, who was a state official who skimmed massive amounts of money off government projects (including the building fund for Louisiana State University).

220px-Richard_NixonRichard Nixon was both giver and receiver of controversial pardons. He pardoned Jimmy Hoffa after the Teamsters Union leader had pledged to support his reelection bid. Nixon himself was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, an act many of us view as a mistake. To his credit, Ronald Reagan declined to pardon the Iran Contra affair figures, but his vice president, George Bush, did so after becoming president. Despite his own alleged involvement in that scandal, Bush still pardoned those other Iran Contra figures, such as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

225px-Bill_ClintonBill Clinton committed some of the worst abuses of this power, including pardons for his brother Roger Clinton and his friend and business partner Susan McDougal. He also pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich, who evaded justice by fleeing abroad. Entirely unrepentant, Rich was a major Democratic donor, and Clinton had wiped away his convictions for fraud, tax evasion, racketeering, and illegal dealings with Iran.

Unlike many of these cases, there were legitimate questions raised about the Stone case. The biggest issue was that the foreperson of the trial jury proved to be a Democratic activist and an outspoken critic of Trump and his associates. It was later discovered that she even wrote publicly about the Stone case. Despite multiple opportunities to do so, she never disclosed her prior statements and actions that would have shown disqualifying bias. Judge Amy Berman Jackson shrugged off all that, however, and refused to grant Stone a new trial, denying him the most basic protection in our system.

440px-Official_Portrait_of_President_Donald_TrumpMoreover, I think both the court and the Justice Department were wrong to push for Stone going to prison at this time, because he meets all of the criteria for an inmate at high risk for exposure to the coronavirus. None of that, however, justifies Trump becoming involved in a commutation, when many of the issues could have been addressed in a legal appeal.

There is lots to criticize in this move without pretending it was a pristine power besmirched by a rogue president. Indeed, Trump should have left the decision to a successor or, at a minimum, to the attorney general. But compared to the other presidents, this commutation is not even a distant contender for “the most corrupt and cronyistic act” of clemency.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

91 thoughts on “Casting The Stone: How Many Ignore History To Condemn The Stone Commutation As Unprecedented”

  1. Dare you to write one of these Stone fluff pieces everyday until Trump is walked out of the White House in January. The haze of stank surrounding this story is not dissipatiing.

  2. Justice left in the hands of the legal community is an even giddier mistress than Turley suggests here. We’re well beyond the point of resurrecting confidence in it. Besides, if a black dude–even maybe a murderer– had been arrested the way Stone was all the authorities would. long ago have collaborated to release him and would by now have finalized his compensation. The main sin Trump has committed is that, as a result of the truncation, some lawyers will lose some money.

  3. I’m not sure what the new systems will be implemented but new system, schools, financial, energy, etc.. will soon be implemented. I’m hopeful for are more horizontal type system rather then more of these vertical type leadership systems we’ve had the last 50 to 100 years.

    In most areas these local public schools are the biggest businesses in town.

    For all the money that is currently being spent by this system, “I believe”, that the stats show most every year the current leadership tells us they need more money because their results are worse then the year before, we give them more money because on the news the polecats are pressured that it’s for the “Children”.

    There has to be something better then maintaining these system’s political voting blocks.

    So we’ve consistently paid more & more into this system yet every year their test results are worse & worse.

    It seems to me an awful waste of the nation’s/state’s capital & human effort causing long lasting damage in training young human potential.

    IE: See the Rule of Holes.

  4. “It’s hard to denounce the Stone pardon when the criminals that put him there are still free.”

  5. “However Trump should have left this decision to his Attorney General”
    ********************************************************************************
    Article 2 Section 2 Clause 1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

    I don’t see anything in there about the AG being involved in the pardon process. And don’t many legal scholars believe that the pardon clause should more correctly called the clemency clause?

  6. The hilarious, impotent rage of the Left over the commutation can do us no harm. The folks who support Justice aren’t going to be swayed by the Democrat tantrum at all and will still vote for Trump. The crying Leftists throwing their tantrum wouldn’t have voted for Trump anyway. All they’re doing is serving us a tasty treat of schadenfreude as they claw their eyes and rend their hair!

  7. Trump was smart to commute his sentence versus a full pardon, as in this way the conviction still stands. Each side gets some red meat, Stone gets to go home, and all of this will be forgotten by Labor Day. Win-Win-Win-Win.

  8. I think the pardon tally is something like: President Trump 11, Obama 1,117, Bush 16, Clinton 61.
    I’m wondering as well when the conspirators to overthrow a duly elected president will meet justice or is Barr trying to run out the clock?

    1. There are tens of thousands of jailed people that deserve pardons. Pot is pretty much legal in the US, except for the backward areas. How many inoffensive Americans had their lives ruined because of this mindless war on drugs? Just like prohibition, the war on drugs did more harm to America than good. Tens of thousands of Americans lost their freedom for doing what many more tens of thousands did, for the most part temporarily in their lives, before and during contributing at all levels. America, following prohibition morphed into a hypocritical nation with an extensive criminal element that was born out of providing illegal liquor. The same is so with pot and most other drugs. Pot was never dangerous. All the other dangerous drugs, drugs that contribute to crime, sickness, mental disorders, etc. are better treated when seen as a mental health disorder. This is a fact proven many times over, but not in America, this biblical enclave. Obama and Carter pardoned mostly next to innocent people who were placed in jail because of stupidity on the part of the wars on drugs of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, etc. Those are righteous pardons. Rich, Stone, Flynn etc are not. These are Americans who abused the trust placed in them at the highest levels. The higher the level, the more severe the punishment should be. Somehow America is still a society where privilege determines the outcome of the law. ?Shi*#ho%$ country? The President alone should not be responsible for pardons.

      1. No, pot isn’t ‘pretty much legal’ in America, nice bubble you’re in, and also, very few are incarcerated these days unless they are dealing, even in the ‘backward’ places. The days of people rotting for minor possession are pretty much gone. Your assertion is both false and lacking teeth.

      2. condescending canadian. Please stay out of the “backward areas.” we don’t want the attitude!

        Whole states that have significant populations and industry

        I favor legalizationi but it’s typical of this person to insult Americans about their laws. Disregard!

      3. and he might have said the war on drugs of Clinton who was proud of incarcerating large numbers of black “superpredators”

        anyhow, leave it to Isaac to throw in a nonsequiter and heap some lies on top of it.

        PS Roger Stone was a pot legalization advocate

  9. Forget Stone, why isn’t the topic as to Why hasn’t Comey the Commie, Brennan, Clapper, BTB Silly Yates, McCabe & at least a 100 more perp Tratiors already been Handcuffed & Arrested!!!!!

    Justice System in Complete Collapse!

  10. (music to tune of Sam Stone)
    Rog Stone! Came home!
    To his wife and familee!
    After serving time in Nazi Germany.

    And Rog took to squeling…
    When he got that empty feeling.

  11. Ah Professor Turley, nothing really surprising here. The GOP and supporters denounced the pardons of President Clinton, while Democrats were silent or supported them. And so, we are having the reverse here. Both sides play politics. The real serious issue though, is the bias in media coverage of politics.

  12. JT ignores the fact that Stone was found guilty of lying about interactions with the President and to the President’s benefit regarding possible obstruction of justice charges, or so Stone said as recently as Friday. JT does not name another pardon were the benefactor held a similar threat over the President’s head.

  13. While Turley, the champion of the right, drags out the old, ‘Well they did it so we can do it.’ argument. Perhaps the point of all this is that Presidential pardons should be abolished or tempered with another branch of government. Rich, Nixon, and the others that had no redeeming qualities should never have received pardons. This layer of absolute power is infectious and works against the American ideal, all men are created equal, before the law, etc. ‘Except my pals’.

    Grow a pair Turley, take a stand. You can be more than a lawyer. A lawyer alone is a pretty despicable thing. A lawyer with a balanced perspective is useful.

    1. “…champion of the right…”

      And there in a nutshell is a perfect example of how TDS warps intellects.

      Turley tries very hard (and succeeds) in looking at most issues dispassionately/objectively.

      But because Turley doesn’t agree with your perception of events, you try to smear his analysis.

      Serious question: If you think that Turley’s analysis is so frequently wrong, why do you waste your time putting him down?

  14. I like how you didn’t even mention Obama’s pardons of Chelsea Manning or Oscar Lopez Rivera. Can’t touch St. Barack. And yes I realize that you are discussing cronyist pardons as opposed to outright bad pardons but Obama’s 1927 pardons still warranted a mention in my opinion. Trump’s premise, that nobody should go to jail for obstruction of justice in a case that was phony to begin with is ethically correct. If anything, Stone obstructed INjustice. He should get an award. I don’t think Stone is a great guy but as Trey Gowdy says, we have pedophiles who serve shorter sentences. To send an elderly man to prison while Pelosi’s home state just let 8000 hardened criminals out to roam free is just one more sickening example of the hypocrisy that has come to define the left. You mention Barr – he is already under constant attack for perfectly legal acts. Trump, very rightly, took the responsibility on his own shoulders. He probably reasoned, as I did, that the press will hate him no matter what he does. Might as well give them a reason to while doing the right thing. Pardoning Stone was the right thing to do. How many lies did Adam Schiff tell during the course of the Russia hoax? A lot. But while Stone remains a convicted felon, Schiff gets to preachtweet about how nauseous it makes him. Guess what, Schiff makes me nauseous. If making Americans nauseous were enough to send somebody to jail, most politicians on both sides would be locked up right now.

  15. I think he wanted the commutation. He wants to fight the sentence. However, back to the original question, no one studies history any more. The 1619 Project is not history, it is Marxist propoganda, however, it will be taught in a school near you, if they open.

    1. Sense a lot more people know now that public schools have became nothing more then Marxist Propaganda Training Centers, now that they are closed it’s an excellent opportunity for the US to switch to a new system of some sort of Home School/On Line & Private Schools.

      1. Oky1 – I have heard talk that more parents are considering home schooling, where it is allowed.

        1. For an unknown reason wordpress posted this response at the top of the page:

          Oky1 says:
          July 13, 2020 at 10:23 AM

          I’m not sure what the new systems will be implemented but new system, schools, financial, energy, etc.. will soon be implemented. I’m hopeful for are more horizontal type system rather then more of these vertical type leadership systems we’ve had the last 50 to 100 years.

          In most areas these local public schools are the biggest businesses in town.

          For all the money that is currently being spent by this system, “I believe”, that the stats show most every year the current leadership tells us they need more money because their results are worse then the year before, we give them more money because on the news the polecats are pressured that it’s for the “Children”.

          There has to be something better then maintaining these system’s political voting blocks.

          So we’ve consistently paid more & more into this system yet every year their test results are worse & worse.

          It seems to me an awful waste of the nation’s/state’s capital & human effort causing long lasting damage in training young human potential.

          IE: See the Rule of Holes.

  16. Off topic. How many Americans died from covid 19 yesterday? How many died from smoking? Three times as many died from smoking. Suicide is dangerous. Close tobacco companies and outlaw sale or growth of tobacco. Put tobacco sales company executives in prison and smoke em to death.

  17. Pardon vs. commute.
    I think he should be pardoned. Then he could vote. He needs to throw away the dumb hat he wore.

Leave a Reply