The Right’s Big Lie About Roger Stone
Trump allies are saying Stone didn’t really threaten a witness. They’re wrong.by Michelle Goldberg
Randy Credico is the witness from Robert Mueller’s investigation whom Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s longtime adviser, has been convicted of threatening. A few months ago, Credico texted me, “If Stone goes to jail I’m a walking dead man.” On Thursday, after the president’s intervention to get Stone a lighter sentence convulsed the Justice Department, I spoke to Credico, a left-wing comedian and activist, and he elaborated on what he’d meant. “The guy goes to prison and I’m to blame, and you’re being called a rat, you’re worried about somebody with a red hat, a MAGA hat, doing a Jack Ruby on you,” he said.
His fear has national implications, because a central question in the Stone sentencing is whether Credico truly felt endangered when Stone promised to cause him harm. Despite what the administration’s defenders say, the answer is yes.
I’ve known Credico since 2002, although not terribly well. We met when I was reporting on New York’s monstrous Rockefeller drug laws, which put people in prison for 15 years or more for low-level drug offenses. Credico introduced me to people whose lives had been destroyed by those sentences. (The campaign against the Rockefeller laws is also how Credico got to know Stone, a libertarian on drug laws.) Credico told me his father was incarcerated for a decade for cracking safes and came out a badly damaged man, sparking Credico’s lifelong hatred of prison as an institution. He texted me on Wednesday, “I would ask for leniency for Hannibal Lecter.”
It was out of a combination of anxiety and idealism that following Stone’s conviction, Credico wrote to the judge in the case, asking that she show Stone mercy. “I don’t want to see a guy go to prison because of me,” he told me. “It’s going to be on my conscience, plus it’s going to anger a lot of people out there who called me a rat.” Now, because of that letter, Credico finds himself near the center of the unfolding scandal over Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing. His words are being used by Trump allies to argue that the prosecutors in the Stone case went overboard. “Unfortunately, they’re exploiting it for their own agenda,” he said of his letter.
As you most likely know by now, in November, Stone was convicted of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering, all stemming from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. Stone, whom members of the Trump campaign saw as an intermediary with WikiLeaks, told Congress, falsely, that Credico was his sole back channel to the hacking organization. Stone threatened Credico not to contradict him, warning him that he’d kidnap Credico’s beloved dog, Bianca, and telling him, “Prepare to die,” with an expletive at the end.
Those threats were part of the reason Justice Department prosecutors originally recommended that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. Trump then tweeted that the proposed sentence was “horrible and very unfair.” After his tweet, Barr overruled career prosecutors to have the department ask the court for a lighter sentence. (Barr claims his decision preceded Trump’s tweet, which might mean he was anticipating Trump’s wishes rather than responding to them.)
Following this unprecedented political meddling, the four main prosecutors on the case withdrew, and one left the Justice Department altogether. On Thursday, in an authoritarian escalation, Trump tweeted an attack on the jury forewoman in the Stone case, singling out a private citizen for abuse because she’d dared to find one of his henchman guilty.
All of this represents a terrifying new nadir in the Trump presidency. Under Barr, the Justice Department is becoming a tool of presidential vendettas, protecting people who commit crimes on Trump’s behalf while conducting investigations into his enemies, including an inquiry into years-old leaks that appears to be focused on James Comey. Barr has even set up an intake system for Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to feed dirt gathered from Ukraine to the Justice Department, all while Giuliani is himself reportedly under criminal investigation for his shady foreign activities.
On Thursday the attorney general appeared on ABC News to assert his independence, telling Trump to stop tweeting about Justice Department cases. But given the slavish way Barr has enacted Trump’s agenda, there’s no reason to see his words as anything but cheap P.R. meant to quell mounting fury at the way he’s corrupting his agency.
It’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the sentencing guidelines that the original prosecutors relied on in the Stone case are too harsh; America sends too many people to prison for too long. But Barr, in general, does not have a problem with draconian punishments for people who are not personal allies of the president. In August, he lambasted progressive prosecutors, saying they “spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the laws.” In Trump’s America, only a select class of criminals are shown magnanimity. As former President Óscar Benavides of Peru allegedly said: “For my friends, everything. For my enemies, the law.”
Yet defenders of Trump and Barr are pointing to Credico’s letter to suggest that they were remedying an injustice, rather than perpetrating one. On Fox News, Katie Pavlich claimed that Credico “said that it was actually a joke and they talk about stuff like that all the time and he actually didn’t feel intimidated.” In the Justice Department’s updated Stone sentencing memo, Credico’s letter is an important part of the case for a shorter prison term. Credico, the memo said, “asserts that he did not perceive a genuine threat from the defendant but rather stated that ‘I never in any way felt that Stone himself posed a direct physical threat to me or my dog.’”
Note the wording: Stone himself. “I never thought Stone personally was going to do it himself,” Credico told me. Rather, he thought that one of Stone’s supporters might. “I look like the guy that’s going to be the guy that’s going to force Stone to talk to the feds and say everything that he knows on the president,” he said. “So I’m expendable at that point. That’s what I’m thinking.”
Now Credico is in the odd position of both hoping that Stone is spared a long prison sentence and of being horrified about the way the workings of justice are being manipulated on Stone’s behalf. He’s effusive about the upright decency of the four prosecutors — “guys of integrity” — who’ve since withdrawn from the case, saying it was “agonizing” that his letter undermined them. Credico said, “These guys were career civil servants, and for Trump to be slamming them is an outrage.”
Outrage seems rather too mild a word. There is now one set of laws in this country for people who serve Trump and another for everyone else. During Trump’s impeachment trial, the House managers repeated a quote attributed to Ben Franklin over and over again: “A republic, if you can keep it.” We haven’t kept it. The question now is whether we ever get it back.
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