July 30, 2022
This morning, Jon Swaine and Dalton Bennett of the Washington Post reported that on October 11, 2019, at Trump’s National Doral golf resort in South Florida, Danish filmmakers caught an unguarded conversation between Trump allies talking about their legal exposure because of their work for the president.
Recording a documentary about Trump’s friend and operative, Roger Stone, the filmmakers caught Stone and Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Stone’s lapel microphone talking about Stone’s upcoming trial for lying to Congress and witness tampering during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Federal prosecutors said that before the 2016 election, Stone repeatedly reached out to WikiLeaks “to obtain information…that would help the Trump campaign and harm the campaign of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.” Campaign officials “believed that Stone was providing them with nonpublic information about WikiLeaks’ plans. Indeed, [Trump advisor and campaign chief executive Steve] Bannon viewed Stone as the Trump campaign’s access point to WikiLeaks.” Stone lied to Congress five times, interfering with their Russia investigation, and threatened another witness to try to keep him from exposing Stone’s lies.
At the time the new tape was recorded, Stone was complaining that prosecutors were pressuring him to turn on Trump, and on the tape, said he might “have to appeal to the big man.” Gaetz can be heard agreeing that Stone was “f*ck*d,” but Gaetz didn’t think he would “do a day” in prison. Claiming he had heard it directly from Trump, Gaetz said: “The boss still has a very favorable view of you,” and continued, “I don’t think the big guy can let you go down for this.” “I don’t think you’re going to go down at all at the end of the day,” Gaetz told Stone.
Gaetz sits on the House Judiciary Committee and thus had seen portions of the redacted sections of Special Counsel Muller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the committee members were prohibited from talking about it except among themselves, Gaetz talked with Stone about it, telling him that he was “not going to have a defense.”
Stone told Gaetz he had seen the entire report himself thanks to a ruling from Judge Amy Berman Jackson, although when he had asked for such access, she had given him access only to some of it, so it is unclear what he meant. He, too, was not supposed to discuss that material.
The two men briefly discussed a photograph of the two of them with Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg that Stone said had “come back to bite us in the a**”; months later Greenberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to six charges including sex trafficking a minor. Greenberg is cooperating with authorities. Stone and Gaetz also discussed the outcry over the FBI raid of Stone’s house: media were at the raid, and Stone accused the FBI of tipping them off. Gaetz guessed the tip came from Stone himself. “Innocent until proven guilty,” Stone replied.
As the two men expected, on November 15 a jury found Stone guilty of seven counts of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
And then, when it came time for his sentencing, events played out as Gaetz suggested they would.
On February 10, prosecutors wrote to Judge Jackson to recommend jail time of 7 to 9 years for Stone, noting that his crime was about the integrity of our government. “Investigations into election interference concern our national security, the integrity of our democratic processes, and the enforcement of our nation's criminal laws,” they wrote. “These are issues of paramount concern to every citizen of the United States. Obstructing such critical investigations thus strikes at the very heart of our American democracy.” Their recommendation fell within standard department guidelines.
Immediately after the sentencing recommendation, though, Trump tweeted that it was “horrible and unfair” and a “miscarriage of justice.” The Justice Department, operating under Attorney General William Barr, then reversed itself, saying its own prosecutors had failed to be “reasonable.”
In response, all four of the federal prosecutors responsible for Roger Stone’s case withdrew. The administration also abruptly pulled the nomination of the former U.S. attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution for a top position in the Treasury Department.
It appeared that the prosecutors were right and the case was actually about the integrity of our democratic processes. It also appeared that Barr had hamstrung the Department of Justice to make sure that no one could touch the president.
Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted.”
Days before Stone was due to report to prison in July to serve 40 months, Trump commuted his sentence, thus removing his jail time, supervised release, and a $20,000 fine. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Trump’s move “an act of staggering corruption,” and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) called it “a real body blow to the rule of law in this country.”
Then, on December 23, 2020, Trump pardoned Stone, as Gaetz had predicted, rewarding his personal loyalty.
Two weeks later, on January 6, 2021, Stone was back in Washington, D.C.
Once again, the Danish film crew was filming and, after the events of that day, recorded Stone asking again for a presidential pardon. This time, Gaetz apparently wanted one, too.
When White House counsel Pat Cipollone prevented Trump from issuing those pardons, Stone told a friend that Trump was “a disgrace…. He betrayed everybody.”