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Friendships and prerogatives

In a Netflix documentary, political consultant and lobbyist Roger Stone extolled the value of disinformation. He described an experiment he did at elementary school, as a young boy, during the Richard Nixon-John Kennedy presidential race. Stone’s parents liked Kennedy, so Stone told everybody he could at the cafeteria that Nixon had proposed to make children go to school on Saturdays. Kennedy won the mock polls.

Friendships and prerogatives

That boy grew up to be a close associate of United States President Donald Trump. Last year, Stone was convicted of obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, and witness tampering in relation to a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections—a gross undermining of the very foundations of their democracy. He also threatened a witness.

Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, but on Friday Mr Trump announced that his longtime friend would serve no time at all.

“In a lengthy written statement punctuated by the sort of inflammatory language and angry grievances characteristic of the president’s Twitter feed, the White House denounced the ‘overzealous prosecutors’ who convicted Mr. Stone on ‘process-based charges’ stemming from the ‘witch hunts’ and ‘Russia hoax’ investigation,” the New York Times reported.

“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly,” the statement said. “He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!”

As president, Trump does have the power to grant clemency. But that he blatantly used this power to favor Stone smacks of more than just cronyism. It is corruption, too, because Stone did not let on what he really knew—which could have damaged Trump—during the probe into Russia’s meddling with the polls. Stone was rewarded accordingly, said Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker.

The indignation about Trump’s gift to Stone is such that the normally reserved, careful and apolitical Robert Mueller III, special counsel for the Justice Department who led the Russia probe, wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post denouncing the clemency.

Mueller emphasized that Stone remains a convicted felon, and listed what he had been found guilty of. “We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false,” he said.

We can identify with the outrage over Trump’s exercise of his presidential discretion to favor his friend. It is not at all foreign to us—we see so many examples of friends and political allies of people in power getting favorable treatment by virtue of associations. We see people who should know better do things that are illogical and unjust, for the sake of their friendship with the powers-that-be and the supposed benefits they would derive from that connection.

But since those acts are their prerogative, they cannot really be held accountable for their actions. The only thing the people can do is to remember the names, remember the egregiousness of the act, and to vote these officials out of power the next time around.

Topics: Roger Stone , disinformation , Donald Trump , Jeffrey Toobin , editorial
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