- 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)
Sen. Baldwin Estimates “13 or 14 Republicans” Will Vote for Respect for Marriage Act
The senator told Rogue Rocket she believes the legislation will pass “with a broad bipartisan majority.”
Respect for Marriage Act
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wi.) told Rogue Rocket that she believes as many as “13 or 14” Republican senators will vote on a bill to codify protections for gay and interracial marriage.
The legislation, dubbed the Respect for Marriage Act, was proposed in response to concerns about the future of marriage equality in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade.
Not only did Roe’s reversal undermine the right to privacy and thus the foundation of the precedents that protected essential rights, Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly called for the court to reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark case that established same-sex marriage.
“The first thing [the bill] does is it repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which sets up a federal definition of non-recognition of marriages between two people of the same sex, and so that would no longer be the law of the land,” Baldwin explained.
“And secondly, it says that the federal government, through a constitutional provision called ‘full faith and credit,’ will give full faith and credit to the acts of states,” she continued. “So if you’re legally married in a state that solemnized same-sex marriages, the federal government will recognize that marriage as well as other states being required to respect that marriage.”
In July, the House passed legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support from 47 Republicans, which is nearly a quarter of the caucus. The proposal also appears to be broadly backed by the public. Recent polls show that 70% of Americans support gay marriage.
Republican senators, however, have been hesitant to vote for the bill ahead of the midterm elections, as Democratic leadership had intended. As a result, the senators leading the charge — including Sen. Baldwin — asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to push a vote until after the midterms, and he consented.
Sen. Baldwin said many GOP senators wanted a clarification that the bill would protect religious liberties and not create a new mandate requiring religious institutions to respect gay or interracial marriage.
She noted that there has been clarifying language put in the legislation to ensure that it just pertains to state recognition of marriage.
“I think the other issue that was being raised — that only time will help us settle — is an accusation that this was going to be a push before the midterm elections,” she added. “And so it was a political act rather than something that we’re doing because we’re very serious about passing this into law and very serious about protecting people’s rights.”
“So it seems pretty clear to me that we gained greater support after the midterms than we had prior to the midterms,” Baldwin continued. “I do believe we’re going to pass it. I do believe that we’re going to pass it with a broad bipartisan majority.
Citing the clarifying language added to the bill, the senator said she thinks “there will be some additional momentum because of the time we’ve taken with this.”
“I feel like we were told in pretty clear terms that we would have some people support only if the vote came after the midterms,” she added.
When asked how many Republicans she believes will ultimately vote in favor of the bill, Baldwin responded: “If I were if I were to give you my best-educated guess, I think we’ll have either 13 or 14 Republicans join us.”
“I’m pushing to have this vote as close to the midterms after they pass as possible. So maybe in mid-November, […] plenty of time before the end of the year and before the membership actually changes,” she noted. “But also, we need to appeal to that compassionate side of some of my Republican colleagues who, you know, this is about a vote that you’re going to take that may well affect a niece and nephew, a cousin, a dear friend.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (CNN)
Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low
The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.
The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.
The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.
The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.
Cases Involving Race
Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.
The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.
Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black.
States’ Power Over Elections
Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.
The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.
“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.
In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.
Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.
That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.
As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.
Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”
Record-Low Approval Rating
The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.
A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.
Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.
“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill.
“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.
The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.
The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.”
The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.
“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.
“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
The Age Maximum Question
Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.
Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.
While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.
These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.
There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.
What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.
As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.
Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.
However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.