This Is What Abuse of Power Looks Like
by D.J. McGuire
Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense Friday night; if his defenders would rather I stop saying that, then he needs to stop doing them. This particular abuse of power and offense to the Constitution was his commutation of Roger Stone’s jail time.
I’m not going to provide chapter and verse on Stone’s role in Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, largely because David Frum whipped up an excellent cliff-notes version in The Atlantic. Here are his key takeaways (emphasis in original):
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. Trump commuted Stone’s 40-month sentence. Roger Stone will not go to prison. Stone’s former business partner Paul Manafort is likewise keeping silent. And so the American public will likely never know what use the Russians made of the Trump polling information that Manafort shared with them. Manafort has extra reason to keep quiet, for he must feel new confidence that his pardon is coming.
Now I’m sure several of Trump’s defenders will populate the comments below with the closest thing they have to an intellectual defense on this: the president’s “right” to pardon or commute sentences for convicted federal criminals. The fallacy behind that is rather easy to expose.
The president has no “right” to exercise authority in the Constitution. The Constitution gives him the power to do several things – including pardon and commutation power. Having said power does not allow him to use it to obstruct justice. The ordinary American with a driver’s license has the power to operate an automobile. That doesn’t absolve one who drives the getaway car in a bank robbery, or transports an abductee, or even violates speeding limits. If one is using power to prevent themselves from being exposed for criminal behavior, then the power is being abused.
As it happens, Stone himself was brazen enough to present the evidence of abuse of power: “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”
Donald Trump can pardon whomever he wants. He can commute the sentence for whomever he wants. However, if he commits a crime in the process, it is an abuse of power that requires his impeachment and removal from office.
There’s no need to take my word for it; here’s Senator Mitt Romney: “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
That from the lone Republican Senator who voted to convict Trump for abuse of power – and thus to remove Trump from office – over the Ukraine fiasco.
Simply put, Donald Trump abused his power – again. His actions warrant impeachment, conviction, and removal from office – again. I fear that outside of Mitt Romney, members of his party will deny this truth – again.
Restoring the American republic is up to the electorate in November.