Was President Trump right to commute Roger Stone’s sentence?
- On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an 'Executive Grant of Clemency' commuting the sentence of former Republican strategist and friend Roger Stone.
- Stone was convicted in November 2019 of seven charges -- lying to Congress and witness tampering in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He misled Congress in his communications with Trump campaign officials out of his stated desire to protect Trump.
- In February, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison and was due to surrender on Tuesday, until the president commuted his sentence.
- Utah Senator Mitt Romney tweeted, “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
Legally, President Trump has absolute power to pardon Roger Stone.
The pardoning power, found in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, gives the president 'power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.' This is a plenary power, which means it is an absolute power that the president can use as he sees fits. Its use is not subject to oversight by other branches of government. The only exception to this is impeachment, which is a legislative process and Constitutionally outside the control of the executive.
In Federalist 74, Alexander Hamilton, one of the chief authors of the Constitution, explains that the pardoning power exists to make the government appear more merciful. Criminal codes are often severe. Justice can be miscarried and applied harshly. There must be a way for the state to show mercy. The best channel of that is not a fractious legislative or judicial body, but a single person who is more easily moved to compassion. Hence, 'one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of the government than a body of men.'
The pardoning power is specifically designed to give the president the power to act in accordance with his discretion. This means it is not corruption for Trump to pardon Stone.
It may be politically unwise and unethical, particularly as Stone's misdeeds implicate, to some extent, the president. Still, until the Constitution is amended to limit the president's pardoning power, it's perfectly legitimate.
Commuting the sentence of Roger Stone is a baldly transparent act of obstruction for the purpose of circumventing the law. Well beneath the Office of the President, commuting the sentence of his long-time close associate, Roger Stone, has the effect of pardoning Trump, himself.
Coming only days before Stone was to have reported to prison, the clemency order not only commutes the sentence, but rescinds terms of his supervised release and the associated fine of $20K. What it does not do is remove the stain of the felonies committed.
In his letter this past weekend, Robert Mueller stated that, 'Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.' Stone was convicted on seven counts, including obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, and lying to Congress. So, it's clear that Trump has less concern for the rule of law than he does for his own ability to evade it.
Stone's position in Trump's life and affairs is of long-standing. As an advisor to the Trump 2016 campaign, Stone spoke with numerous campaign officials. This information was concealed from Congress in an effort to protect now-president Trump. And Trump's actions in this instance are precisely dedicated to the same project - protecting himself in the matter of his campaign's extensive contacts with Russia during the 2016 election and resulting interference in this nation's democratic processes. Even Richard Nixon was not so brazen in his pursuit of exoneration over Watergate. Mitt Romney has called the commutation 'unprecedented, historic corruption,' which is precisely what it is.