Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence for lying to Congress and other crimes discovered in the Russia investigation “does not have to be the end of the story”, the former Mueller team member Andrew Weissmann said on Tuesday, advocating that the self-confessed political dirty trickster be brought before a grand jury.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow, suspected Stone of being the link between Trump and WikiLeaks, the pro-transparency organisation which leaked material damaging to Hillary Clinton that was hacked by Russian intelligence. Mueller also suspected the president of lying about such links.
“If there was nothing nefarious about [Stone’s] coordination efforts, why did he lie about them to Congress?” Weissmann asked in a column for the New York Times.
“This question remains unanswered, as the Mueller report notes. In spite of the president’s commutation, prosecutors can seek to discover the answer by calling Mr Stone before a grand jury.”
Mueller did not prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Moscow but did lay out extensive contacts and instances of possible obstruction of justice. The investigation produced more than 30 indictments.
One would have put Stone, 67, behind bars for 40 months had the president not intervened on Friday. Trump has claimed “rave reviews” for the decision. The Utah senator Mitt Romney called it an act of “unprecedented, historic corruption”.
Mueller himself has spoken out, via a column in the Washington Post.
“Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes,” the former FBI director wrote. “He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
Weissmann has written a book, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation, which will be published by Random House on 29 September. Announcing it on Monday, he said: “I am deeply proud of the work we did … but the hard truth is that we made mistakes. We could have done more.”
For the Times, he wrote: “Stone’s criminal conviction resulted from his testimony under oath in the fall of 2017 before a Republican-controlled committee in Congress. He was asked about his interactions with WikiLeaks … and his potential coordination with Mr Trump and others on the Trump campaign about the same.
“Mr Stone denied such communications. Yet scores of his own contemporaneous emails and texts proved otherwise.
“… At sentencing, the federal judge pointedly noted that Mr Stone had been prosecuted for ‘covering up for the president’, and Mr Stone boasted just before the president’s act of clemency that he had dutifully remained silent. Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Stone had ‘guts’ for not cooperating with prosecutors.
“To get at the truth of why he lied, Mr Stone can be served with a grand jury subpoena – by a federal or state prosecutor – or even with a congressional subpoena, requiring him to answer the question: why did you lie to Congress? And many others.”
Weismann outlined three choices Stone would then have: to lie again, thereby opening himself to new prosecution; to refuse to comply, which could result in contempt charges and jail time; or to tell the truth.
Weismann compared that option to that taken by witnesses in two of his previous cases as an attorney in the Department of Justice: the Enron scandal and “a Genovese mob case, [in which] a foot soldier who had pleaded guilty … was served with a grand jury subpoena to learn who his conspirators were [and] chose to cooperate”.
Stone spoke publicly on Monday night – to the Fox News host and fellow Trump ally Sean Hannity.
“I had a biased judge,” he said, “I had a stacked jury, I had a corrupt jury forewoman.”
He also thanked Hannity and other prominent conservatives including Michael Flynn, Tucker Carlson and Matt Gaetz, and said he would have been in danger of dying from coronavirus had he gone to jail.
Mueller’s team, Stone said, “wanted me to be the ham in their ham sandwich because they knew the Mueller report, particularly on Russia, it was a dud. It was a goose egg.”
Weissmann, however, wrote that Trump’s Department of Justice “may not authorise pursuing the truth about the unanswered question: why did Roger Stone lie to Congress? But that does not mean future federal prosecutors must make the same decision or that a state prosecutor cannot now seek Mr Stone’s testimony.
“The tools to get at the truth are there and should be used. If [Attorney General William] Barr does not support their use, we should all ask ourselves why not.”