No Pardon for Roger Stone | Opinion

In less than two weeks, former Trump political advisor Roger Stone must report to prison. Although the President has been signaling that he intends to pardon Stone, Trump better think long and hard before he does that. Newly disclosed passages from the Mueller Report indicate Trump may have worried that Stone had damaging information about him, and Trump may have lied about it to the special counsel's team to protect himself. Pardoning Stone to keep him quiet could constitute a federal crime, leaving Trump liable to prosecution once his presidency ends.

On July 14, Stone must start his 40-month sentence for lying to and obstructing Congress, as well as witness tampering, since his effort to delay things until September failed. His lies thwarted the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into whether Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election. Federal judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sentenced Stone, said he "was prosecuted for covering up for the president."

According to media reports, Stone has said he would not turn on Trump. Nonetheless, Trump may be concerned that Stone would talk to avoid prison. Trump told Special Counsel Robert Mueller III that he didn't remember the specifics of his conversations with Stone between June and November 8, 2016. But Stone might remember them very well.

Wikileaks' publicly released emails hacked by Russia from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Stone might remember whether he briefed Trump on this before the hacks became public, and whether Trump encouraged him to get more hacked materials. According to the new Mueller material, Trump may have known that Stone "could provide evidence that would run counter to the President's denials and would link the President to Stone's efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks."

Stone also communicated during the 2016 campaign with the GRU, the Russian spy agency involved in election interference. He might remember talking to Trump about those communications at the time, and what Trump said, including whether Trump approved the outreach to the Russians. And, Stone might also remember talking to Trump about a pardon for Julian Assange, Wikileaks' leader, in exchange for Assange's help in publicly releasing the hacked emails.

Trump has claimed for more than three years that the allegation he colluded/conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election was a hoax. If Stone admits these exchanges occurred, it would show that Trump lied about his dealings with Russia, jeopardize his re-election in November and expose him to criminal charges.

President Richard Nixon authorized pardon offers to the Watergate burglars to keep them from revealing that higher-ups were involved in the break-in. Although the cover-up ultimately unraveled, the pardon offers helped buy many months of silence and enabled Nixon's landslide re-election. Like Nixon, Trump would have every incentive to keep Stone from talking if Stone had information that could damage Trump.

But Trump has no good options. Pardoning Stone now could harm his re-election chances, since critics will claim that he was trying to silence Stone and cover up criminality. A pardon could also open Trump up to prosecution after he leaves the presidency for such crimes as witness tampering or obstruction of justice. Alternatively, if Trump waits to issue a pardon until after the November election, he risks alienating Stone, who may have incriminating disclosures to make about Trump, and would not be happy about spending months in prison.

A Trump pardon for Stone would reek of corruption and abuse of power. It would also point to a broader problem: the Constitution's framers failed to build adequate safeguards to prevent pardons from being used to hide presidential criminality. If Trump pardons Stone, it would underscore the importance of revising the Constitution's pardon provision.

That's one of many reforms Trump's abusive presidency has shown are needed to preserve our democracy. Beyond that, if Trump pardons Stone, once he is out of office the Justice Department must investigate him vigorously and take appropriate action. This president has done much damage already, but he could do lasting damage if the precedents he has set are allowed to stand after his presidency ends. To prevent that, we need to invoke the full weight of the Constitution and the law to reverse them.

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former Congresswoman who served on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate and voted to impeach President Nixon. She is a Harvard Law graduate and the author of The Case for Impeaching Trump.

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