Stone Walks Free in One of the Greatest Scandals in American History

Source: The Atlantic | July 11, 2020 | David Frum

The amazing thing about the saga is how much of it happened in the full light of day.

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Yet Stone is the central figure in the greatest scandals in U.S. history. Ames, Hanssen, the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss—none of them worked with a foreign intelligence service to help a candidate for president of the United States. Stone did. And now he will receive a commutation of his sentence from the president he served.

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Trump declared in writing to the Mueller investigation that he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. On page 77 of Volume II of the report, Mueller expressed disbelief in Trump’s sworn evidence: “Witnesses said that Trump was aware that Roger Stone was pursuing information about hacked documents from WikiLeaks at a time when public reports stated that Russian intelligence officials were behind the hacks, and that Trump privately sought information about future WikiLeaks releases.” On page 17 of Volume II, the report cites the former Trump attorney Michael Cohen as one of those witnesses, along with Gates.

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.

But how much more do we need to know? At every step in this story, the formula I’ve mentioned in previous essays continues to hold: “Many secrets. No mysteries.” Although crucial details remain concealed, the core narrative has been visible from the start. An American private citizen worked with foreign spies to damage one presidential candidate and help the other. That president accepted the help. When caught, the private citizen lied. When the private citizen was punished, the president commuted his sentence.

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