Donald Trump’s commutation of his friend Roger Stone’s criminal sentence is one of the most severe affronts to the rule of law during the Trump administration—and that’s really saying something. Fortunately, it’s not indelible. A future Justice Department could indict Stone once again. And this fact highlights that on the ballot in 2020 is not just a forward-looking end to Trump’s corruption and lawlessness, but also a reversal of some of his administration’s worst excesses.
Hours before the commutation, Stone said in an interview that he thought Trump would help him because the president “knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.” Stone thought that his silence would buy a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card from his friend. But, like everyone else who’s dealt with Trump, Stone got a raw deal.
Sure, Trump helped Stone by invoking his extraordinary constitutional powers to relieve Stone of the consequences of his 2019 conviction for lying to investigators, obstructing a congressional inquiry, and witness tampering. But Trump, characteristically, did as little as possible: He commuted Stone’s sentence but didn’t pardon him. That means—as Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote on Saturday—that Stone “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.” A commutation does nothing to erase or even call into question a convicted defendant’s guilt.