- On Friday, President Donald Trump commuted the 40-month sentence of Roger Stone, who was found guilty of seven felonies including: obstruction, witness tampering, and making false statements.
- The same day, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended his office’s prosecution of Stone, noting that Stone is still a convicted felon despite the commutation.
- On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he will allow Mueller to be invited to testify before his Congressional committee. Graham defended Stone’s commutation, saying this was a “non-violent, first-time offense.”
- Because Stone is a longtime friend of Trump, the move was condemned over the weekend by multiple Democrats and some Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Trump Commutes Stone
President Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone had led to a flurry of responses, and it could even lead to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifying before Congress.
On Friday, Trump handed down the commutation to Stone, his longtime friend and former campaign adviser. For decades, Stone has been a figure of immense controversy, but increasing scrutiny in 2015 prompted him to leave the campaign team.
Stone later found himself a subject in the Mueller investigation, which was conducting a probe into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. In January 2019, Mueller’s office arrested Stone in relation to that investigation.
In November, Stone was convicted of all seven crimes he was accused of: witness tampering, obstructing a congressional investigation, and five counts of making false statements. In February, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Though he had managed to get a two-week extension, Stone would have reported to prison on Tuesday. Leading up to that, Stone repeatedly and openly asked for his sentence to be commuted, arguing that he could die in prison because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Trump] knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably,” Stone told journalist Howard Fineman just hours before his commutation. “But I didn’t.”
Even though Trump has commuted and pardoned a number of controversial figures, this is the first time he’s done so for someone directly connected to his campaign.
“Mr. Stone was charged by the same prosecutors from the Mueller Investigation tasked with finding evidence of collusion with Russia,” the White House said in a statement. “Because no such evidence exists, however, they could not charge him for any collusion-related crime.
“Instead, they charged him for his conduct during their investigation,” that statement went on to say. “The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison.”
The White House statement also pushed the argument regarding Stone’s health, saying, “Mr. Stone is a 67-year-old man, with numerous medical conditions, who had never been convicted of another crime.”
“Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison,” it said.
While the statement asserts that Stone was “charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing a case that never should have existed,” it never once says that Stone is innocent of the seven crimes he was convicted of—just that his crimes stemmed from the investigation.
“The president has saved my life,” Stone later said on Friday, “and he’s given me the opportunity to fight for vindication, to fight for my exoneration.”
Mueller Publishes Op-Ed
Also that same day, Mueller published an op-ed in The Washington Post where he defended Stone’s conviction and noted that the commutation does not overturn his status as a convicted felon.
“I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office,” Mueller said. “The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
In the op-ed, Mueller called Stone a “central figure” in the investigation for two reasons. The first was that in 2016, Stone reportedly communicated “with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers.” The second is that he “claimed advance knowledge” of the Wiki-leaks release of then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails by those Russian intelligence officers.
“When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts,” Mueller said.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) responded to Mueller’s op-ed on Sunday, indicating that he will now allow a Democratic request to allow Mueller to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham had previously blocked that request for months.
“Apparently Mr. Mueller is willing – and also capable – of defending the Mueller investigation through an oped in the Washington Post,” Graham said.
“Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have previously requested Mr. Mueller appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about his investigation. That request will be granted.”
Democrats Promise Investigation and Some Republicans Speak Out
Following Stones’ commutation, a wave of Democrats called the move an abuse of presidential power, saying it undermines the justice system.
For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the move an example of “staggering corruption.” Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Trump had engaged in an “impeachable offense.” Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) also promised to launch an investigation in the House Judiciary Committee.
While many Republicans have been quiet on the commutation, some like Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), have spoken out, saying on Saturday, “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) also criticized the president for commuting Stone.
“While I understand the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation, in my view, commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is a mistake,” Toomey said. “He was duly convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of a congressional investigation conducted by a Republican-led committee.”
Toomey also noted that as recently as last week, Attorney General Bill Barr defended Stone’s conviction as “righteous.” Barr has also called Stone’s nearly three-and-a-half-year prison sentence“fair.”
Not all Republicans have vocally criticized the president for commuting Stone. In fact, Toomey and Romney have been directly targeted by Trump, who called them “Republicans in name only.”
Graham, on the other hand, has supported Trump’s move by citing Stone’s age and pointing out that this “was a non-violent, first-time offense.”
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (The Washington Post)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)
Biden Announces Executive Actions on Gun Violence
- President Biden unveiled several executive actions on Thursday to address gun violence in America, which he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.”
- Biden’s measures include new limits on “ghost guns,” which are built from separate parts and usually do not have traceable serial numbers, as well as stabilizing braces, which functionally turn pistols into more lethal weapons.
- Biden also said he would direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use in implementing “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement or family to petition a court to temporarily block a person in crisis from accessing firearms.
- The president characterized these actions as first steps, noting that congressional approval will be needed for his agenda and urging the chambers to take action.
Biden’s Plan for Gun Violence
President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions on Thursday aimed at addressing gun violence in America.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said in remarks from the Rose Garden. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Among other measures outlined, the president said he will tighten restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms built at home by buying individual parts or kits to assemble guns that often lack serial numbers, making them hard to identify and trace.
Another rule will require devices to meet the requirements of the National Firearms Act if they are marketed as a stabilizing brace that can functionally turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The alleged shooter who killed 10 people in Boulder last month appeared to have used a pistol with an arm brace, which Biden said made the weapon more stable and accurate.
Additionally, Biden will also direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use to enact “red flag” laws, which allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a court to temporarily ban a person in crisis from accessing firearms. He will also as require the agency to publish an annual report on firearms trafficking.
In addition to those actions, the president said that he will nominate gun control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director since 2015.
Finally, Biden also emphasized that his administration will invest in community violence intervention programs. That includes proposing $5 billion for the initiatives over the course of eight years as part of his infrastructure plan.
Mounting Press and Continued Gridlock
Biden’s announcement comes as he is facing pressure from gun control activists and Democrats to act on gun violence following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.
Many have also condemned the president for not making gun control a top priority for his first days in office, as he promised during his campaign.
According to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 57% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden has handled gun violence so far, and two-thirds “believe reducing gun violence should be a higher priority than protecting the right to own a wide variety of guns.”
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly pressured Congress to take action on gun violence, specifically pointing to two bills passed by the House last month. Both were dead on arrival in the divided Senate. In his remarks Thursday, the president characterized the actions he outlined as the first steps.
“This is just a start, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, it seems like we always have a long way to go.”
However, he also acknowledged that further, substantial action will require the approval of Congress, which he urged to close background check loopholes, ban assault weapons, and narrow protections for gun manufacturers from litigation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (USA Today)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Asked Trump’s White House for Blanket Preemptive Pardons
- The New York Times reported Tuesday that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Trump to preemptively pardon him and unknown congressional allies for any possible crimes they might have committed.
- The request reportedly happened the same time federal investigators started looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in violation of sex trafficking laws, though it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House were aware of the inquiry at the time.
- Gaetz denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the investigation, and Trump said the congressman had “never asked [him] for a pardon.”
Gaetz Scandal Deepens
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Donald Trump to grant blanket preemptive pardons for any crimes he or his other allies in Congress may have committed, according to a report from The New York Times published Tuesday.
Four people familiar with the matter told the outlet that the ask came around the same time Gaetz was publicly calling for broad pardons. About two weeks after Trump lost the election, the congressman publicly said that he should “pardon everyone” before he left office, or they would be targeted by the “radical left.”
At the time, federal investigators from the Justice Department had already begun looking into whether he had a previous sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws — revelations that surfaced last week — which Gaetz denied.
According to The Times, it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House knew he was under investigation at the time he allegedly made the request. The sources said he did not tell White House aides.
It is also unclear who else he sought a pardon for, though, as the outlet notes, “In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
The sources also said that aides told Trump about the request, though Trump himself released a statement Wednesday claiming he had not discussed the matter directly with Gaetz.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” he said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
A spokesperson for Gaetz also denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the DOJ investigation.
“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz — where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ — with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” the spokesperson said. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
Gaetz and Allies Ramp Up Rhetoric
Meanwhile, Gaetz has continued to go on the offensive in the last week since news of the sex trafficking investigation broke — a story The Times also first published.
Also on Tuesday, Talking Points Memo reported that Gaetz is now using allegations that he sex-trafficked a minor to raise money. In a screenshot of a campaign fundraising email published by the outlet, Gaetz accused The Times of publishing the allegations in an attempt to end his career, and accusing “the Left” of trying to drag his “dating life into their political attacks.”
So far, the growing scandal does not appear to be hurting the congressman’s image among Trump allies. While many have remained silent, Trump’s statement Wednesday about the pardon — his first public comment on any of the allegations — clearly implies that he still backs the congressman who has been one of his biggest allies.
The Flordia representative has also been asked to speak at a conservative women’s conference at Trump’s Miami golf course this Friday. In a tweet Tuesday, the organization said they were “honored” to have Gaetz speak at the event, despite the ongoing investigation.