Only the Voters Can Save Our Justice System From Trump's Cover-Ups | Opinion

President Trump granted clemency to Roger Stone because he was afraid that if Stone went to prison, he would "flip" and testify against him like Trump's former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen. This is the only explanation that fits what we know about the two men and their relationship.

Trump knows all about "flippers," and by his own admission, has been pondering them for most of his adult life. Last year in complaining about Cohen on Fox News, Trump explained that what Cohen did is "called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal." Trump acknowledged that he knew "all about flipping, 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go." As Trump expressed his worst fears, "If you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you will go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he [Cohen] made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. ... And I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff."

What Trump described is standard law enforcement procedure—convict a low-level criminal, ask the court to impose a heavy sentence, and then make a deal with the convicted defendant to recommend a reduction in his sentence in return for his cooperation and truthful testimony against higher ups. That is what is known as "flipping."

With Stone facing 40 months in prison, Trump knew that Stone was a prime candidate to "flip" and would be incentivized to tell prosecutors or congressional investigators, as did Cohen, what he knows about Trump in return for leniency. There is little reason to doubt Stone has information on Trump upon which he could have made a deal. The evidence at Stone's criminal trial revealed that Stone, on behalf of the Trump campaign, directly communicated with the Russian intelligence agent known as Guccifer 2.0 and then with the Russian cutouts Wikileaks and Julian Assange as they strategically published the documents stolen by the Russians from the Democratic National Committee ("DNC"). The trial testimony of Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates further revealed that Trump was in contact with Stone during the campaign regarding Russia's publication of the stolen DNC data. The phone records entered into evidence at the trial also proved that Stone was in regular contact with Trump throughout the campaign.

I interviewed Stone on October 1, 1973, in the course of an investigation into a White House directed assault against anti-war demonstrators. The perpetrators of that assault included the same individuals who would later become known as the Watergate burglars. However, my then impression of Stone—only reinforced decades later, when I appeared with him on MSNBC in 2018—is that he is a weak individual who would not do well in prison and would be a prime candidate to be telling the truth to avoid jail time. Trump, who has known and dealt with Stone for years, must also know this. The only way Trump could be assured that the truth of what Stone knows will never be revealed is to keep him out of prison.

Indeed, Stone admitted to the journalist Howard Finemen that Trump "knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn't."

This plot to silence Stone is part of Trump's larger effort to tamper with the other two key witnesses knowledgeable about Russian interference in the 2016 election — Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Adviser, and Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. As detailed in the Mueller Report outlining the evidence of Trump's criminal intent on obstructing justice, the plot to maintain the silence of these two potential witnesses dates back to February 14, 2017, when Trump asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, and June 2018, when Trump, through his public statements, attempted to influence the jury in the Manafort trial and to dissuade Manafort from cooperating with Mueller after his conviction.

When Manafort was sent to New York City to be arraigned on New York state charges, Barr directed DOJ to take the unprecedented step of housing Manafort in a cushy federal prison rather than at the notorious Rikers Island state prison, and later had Manafort released from prison to home confinement. As to Flynn, at Trump's urging, Barr has moved the district court to dismiss the criminal prosecution against Flynn on blatantly pretextual grounds — that Flynn was somehow tricked into lying and that his lies were not material based on an incorrect legal definition of materiality—even though Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI.

In short, we have a president who is obstructing justice before our very eyes, in real time. The fact that he is perpetrating this crime in public does not make it any less of a crime. While congress may not have the appetite so close to the election to bring another impeachment proceeding against Trump, on November 3rd the jury of the American people should render their verdict and vote this corrupt president out of office.

Nick Akerman is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney law firm, a former Assistant Special Watergate Prosecutor and a former Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​