Why Trump’s denials about his Roger Stone involvement are meaningless

Federal prosecutors have withdrawn from the case against longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone after a decision by top Justice Department officials to disavow and undercut their own federal prosecutors by reducing the government’s recommended sentence against him.

President Donald Trump denied Tuesday afternoon that he had anything to do with the Justice Department’s decision to reconsider its sentencing guidelines for onetime Trump adviser Roger Stone, a move that led to the withdrawal of all four federal prosecutors involved in the case.

“I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, adding of DOJ: “I did not speak to them.”

Buuuuuut, here’s the thing: Trump did send a tweet on Monday night that made very clear what he thought about Stone’s sentencing. (Stone was convicted of seven counts related to his involvement in Russia’s attempt to meddle in the 2016 election.)

“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” wrote Trump. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice.”

The idea — that Trump seems to be attempting to sell — that there is some difference between his tweet and directly communicating with the DOJ is, on its face, ludicrous. It is a distinction without a difference.

To accept Trump’s premise is to believe two unbelievable things:

1) That neither Attorney General Bill Barr nor anyone else in the upper echelon of the Department of Justice saw Trump’s tweet.

2) That the timing of the reconsideration of the seven-to-nine-year sentencing guideline for Stone — less than 24 hours after Trump’s tweet — is purely coincidental.

No matter your political affiliation, it’s simply not possible to think those two things are true. Not. Possible.

Especially — and, in truth, you don’t need this context but it makes it all the more damning — when you consider that Trump publicly hounded his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself in the Russia probe and then harangued him to pursue Democrats. And when you consider that Trump villainized the top brass at the FBI for being part of the so-called “Deep State.” (There is zero actual evidence that this “Deep State” actually exists.) And when you consider that he’s done a thousand other smaller things to undermine the public’s faith in institutions broadly — and the Department of Justice in particular.

Given all that, you would have to have spent the last few years on another planet to not know a) Trump’s view toward the DOJ and b) Trump’s desire to use the powers of his office to help his friends and punish his enemies. (In Trump’s world, his enemies are everyone who is not sufficiently loyal to him.)

The idea that unless Trump said to Barr, “I need you to change the sentencing guidelines,” then he didn’t get involved is along the same logical lines that unless Trump said the words “quid pro quo” on his July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, then he couldn’t have engaged in one.

(Sidebar: By the end of the Senate impeachment trial, many Republican senators had acknowledged that Trump sought to use the power of his office to force Zelensky to announce an investigation into his political rivals, but they said it wasn’t an impeachable crime.)

In short: Donald Trump knew — and knows — exactly what he is doing here. And whether he talked to Barr doesn’t make one whit of difference.

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