“I hit Ali with everything and he said, ‘Is that all you got?” and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much it’”
— George Foreman
While it is never a good thing to be hit with a federal criminal indictment, Roger Stone, who was arrested early Friday morning based on just such an instrument, very well may be thinking, “Is that all you got?”
A review of the 24-page document reveals little, if anything, not already in the public domain.
The indictment reflects a case built almost entirely on piecing together numerous statements, e-mails, text messages and interviews by Stone over the past two years, then comparing some of those to testimony he reportedly gave before a House of Representatives committee in September 2017 and concluding — surprise! — that there appear to be conflicting statements.
Newcomers to the rough-and-tumble world of American politics might be shocked to discover that candidates and campaign operatives make conflicting statements from time to time. Neophytes might also be dismayed to discover that elected officials occasionally cast votes inconsistent with earlier votes. And they also might be amazed that a candidate’s campaign would have an interest in negative information about an opponent’s campaign.
But yes, in the real world, such things do take place.
What truly should shock the conscience is that actions such as inconsistent political campaign statements, or a campaign expressing an interest in discovering an opponent’s weaknesses, have now become criminal offenses; at least in the opinion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
For all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the 19-month long investigation spearheaded by Mueller (supposedly to uncover “collusion” between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia), Friday’s indictment of Stone is surprisingly unrevealing and substantively weak.
If the purpose of the indictment is to show that a massive federal investigation was able to comb through hundreds, if not thousands, of communications to, from and concerning Roger Stone — one of the more loquacious political consultants on the planet — and find several inconsistencies, then the Mueller team has succeeded admirably.
If the goal of the special counsel’s office was to show that the Trump campaign in the final weeks of the 2106 campaign was interested in finding out as much information as it could about weaknesses in the Hillary Clinton campaign, it appears Mueller’s suspicions were correct.
The Trump campaign apparently did communicate with Stone — a well-known friend to the campaign and to the candidate himself. Some of those communications took place following public reports that contained or referred to information damaging to the Clinton campaign.
If the indictment is designed to jump-start a protracted game of wordsmithing — in which dueling lawyers parse phrases uttered by Stone when he voluntarily appeared before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to testify about matters already widely known publicly (and to the committee) — the indictment certainly lit that fuse.
Finally, as to the allegations that Stone “tampered” with another witness, Jerome Corsi (often described as a “right-wing political commentator and conspiracy theorist”), the government should have little trouble showing that Stone did, in fact, urge Corsi to assert his right against self-incrimination.
In that regard, also, the prosecutors appear to have strong evidence that the two pundits (Stone and Corsi) argued back and forth about such testimony, even to the point of calling each other names.
The real question in this context should be how and why such communications between two right-wing pundits have become grounds for a federal felony charge against one of them (Stone), and the basis for another felony charge against Stone referencing an argument between Stone and “Person 2,” who reportedly is yet another right-wing radio host and comedian.
If all this were not serious it would be comedic. But it is serious; Stone faces decades in prison if convicted on all seven counts in the indictment.
Most importantly, however, this latest Mueller indictment is serious because of what it says about our system of justice and what it has become in recent years — no longer a search for truth or justice, but rather a drive to “find a crime” no matter how many reputations and lives are ruined along the way.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s seventh district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation.