Attorney General William Barr is taking deserved criticism for undercutting his prosecutors to try to get a better sentencing deal for Donald Trump crony Roger Stone.
Barr’s misplaced loyalties — putting his boss’ desires ahead of impartial justice — are only part of the story, and arguably not even the most important.
What should raise more questions is why the president is so concerned about trying to keep Stone from spending a long time in prison for lying to Congress and threatening a witness during the investigation into Russian election meddling.
Could it be that Trump is scared Stone could be tempted to tell some secrets if he were to receive the seven- to nine-year sentence that the prosecutors who tried the case had recommended?
That’s what Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor who writes an op-ed column periodically in USA Today, theorizes as Trump’s motivation, and by connection Barr’s.
“Every day Stone (who is now 67) spends in prison is another day he could decide he does not want to celebrate his 76th birthday behind bars,” writes Stern.
“The way a prisoner gets an early release is by cooperating. Given Stone’s close relationship with Trump, and his VIP seat at the center of the Russia investigation, if he decides to cooperate, Stone could cause a lot of problems for the president.
“Reducing the time Stone spends in prison dramatically reduces the risk he will tell federal investigators what he knows — and where they can find emails, photos, recordings and documents he has likely stashed away against the day he needs to save his own skin.”
Although this may sound like too much of a conspiracy theory for some, it should be remembered that Trump has a history of using ethically questionable methods to try to shut up potential witnesses against him: such as funneling hush money during the 2016 campaign to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair; or issuing an order barring current and former White House employees from providing evidence during his recent impeachment.
Trump, of course, could sit back and, rather than trying to influence the judge’s sentencing of Stone, just pardon his buddy after the penalty is handed down. Such a blatant abuse of power, though, on top of other abuses could damage Trump’s re-election bid, and potentially prompt another impeachment inquiry. Would even as reckless a president as Trump take that chance?