According to president Trump : “The Democrats are crooked,” he said when questioned in the Oval Office about what he learned from the impeachment ordeal, which concluded one week ago. “They got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.”It was a conclusive answer to a question that seemed less and less of a question in the days since Trump’s impeachment trial gaveled out with a “not guilty” verdict.
He’s cast aside conventions separating politics from the rule of law. And he’s basking in the uncertainty of the Democratic race to replace him. Even as some of his aides scramble to explain away his behavior as routine, Trump himself is taking no pains to disguise his intentions.
After administration officials downplayed the decision to ease sentencing recommendations for onetime campaign associate Roger Stone as standard procedure, Trump made clear the intervention was more narrow.
He further stated: “I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing,” he said in the Oval Office as his Ecuadorian counterpart looked on. “They saw the horribleness of a nine year sentence for doing nothing.”
Stone’s crimes, in the eyes of the federal jury who convicted him of tampering with a witness and lying to Congress, were not nothing. But for Trump, the facts of the case seemed ancillary to the effect the episode had on Stone and his family.
Going further he said “We have killers, we have murderers all over the place, nothing happens,” he said. “And then they put a man in jail and destroy his life, his family, his wife, his children. Nine years in jail — it’s a disgrace.”
But he declined to say whether he was considering a pardon for Stone — “I don’t want to say that yet”– but the message was clear: the once-typical wall between White House political motives and Justice Department decision-making has fallen.
But the longstanding practice of avoiding interference in politically charged Justice Department investigations had at least been applied in theory — if not practice. Now, Trump is openly flaunting his willingness to intervene. Earlier in the day, Trump congratulated Attorney General Bill Barr in a tweet for “taking charge” of the Stone case and railed against what he described as the “Mueller Scam.”
Trump has overseen the dismissal of two key witnesses from the impeachment trial, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU. He’s itching to fire other officials he deems disloyal, and abruptly withdrew a Treasury Department nomination for Jessie Liu, the former US attorney who headed the office that oversaw Stone’s prosecution.