I don’t know how many more days like this I can handle.
Roger Stone, convicted for witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstructing an official proceeding was today sentenced to 40 months in prison. The media immediately turned the judge, who rejected an initial Justice Department recommendation that Stone get between 7 and 9 years, into a hero.
Ari Melber on MSNBC (who evidently considers himself the Consoler in Chief) once again had guests on to tell the American people that the judicial branch is holding steady, the last bastion of integrity and justice. The institutions, so he claims, are holding.
Well, I’ve got news for Ari F…ing Melber, the institutions are not holding. The executive branch is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a government (Sarah Kenzior), the Congress is toothless and being led by the nose by a collection of thugs who are either being bought off or extorted or who are just so craven for power they will do anything. This same group of thugs is appointing new federal judges at breakneck speed. Their nominees are so inept and ignorant they would never ever get near a courtroom as a judge unless there were a thoroughly corrupt administration shoveling them into lifetime positions. The media is controlled by corporate interests and mediocre star reporters who laugh and joke their way through crisis after crisis after crisis. The institutions are crumbling before our eyes.
Neither the corporate press nor the members of Congress are brave enough to see what’s happening and convey the seriousness of the situation. The institutions are holding, they say. Nothing to see here. It will all be alright.
It reminds me of something that happened to me in Scotland years ago. I went along with a friend to a house where the father of the family had thrown himself out a window. Fortunately, he fell into the lovely Scottish garden below. I was charged with sitting with the young son. At some point I said: It’ll be alright. The kid’s head snapped around and he stared at me with incredulity and contempt. “Alright,” he said. “Alright? My father just jumped out of a window.” I nodded. “You have a point.” I said.
Sentencing for white collar (political and corporate) criminals is already an obscene joke in this country. Take a look at Jesse Eisinger’s recent (and totally ignored) book “The Chickenshit Club.” Eisinger details what happens these days to prosecutors who try to aggressively prosecute white collar criminals. It’s an endeavor which is against their career interests. Most white collar (corporate and political) criminals are not prosecuted. The Justice Department almost always does deals with their attorneys before they come to trial. A trial is considered time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary. Smart prosecutors are expert negotiators and deal makers. As Eisinger points out, not only have prosecutors learned that they put their careers on the line if they fail to negotiate a deal, the institution itself has lost the expertise to prosecute cases and take them to trial.
Line prosecutors in the Stone case, though, did go to trial. These prosecutors risked their careers but they proved their case and then recommended a sentence that was squarely in the middle of (already lenient) sentencing guidelines. Their reward? William Barr intervened, overruled them and after they resigned in protest sent his cronies into court to claim that DOJ had reconsidered the sentence recommendation and decided a lesser sentence was appropriate.
Then, when most of us who are sane and love the law and the concept of justice noticed, when something like 2000 former DOJ officials wrote a letter of protest, Barr sent his minions back into court to say that it had all been a misunderstanding.
Nobody who has a brain can mistake this series of events for anything but what it was – an attempt by Barr and Trump to see if they could simply throw caution to the wind and direct the sentencing of one of Trump’s buddies. They tried, they got some push back, and they backed off to some extent. But, make no mistake about it. They will try again, and they will probably succeed. This is (like the pardons) a softening of the ground.
Because of this, what was needed from the courts was a strong statement that high-level government officials cannot just dictate prosecution and sentencing. What we got was the same “chickenshit” response from Jackson we saw previously from Mueller (who defined his investigation so narrowly it could not really be effective). Jackson compromised, caved, backed down.
Earlier in the day, Seth Abramson tweeted that Trump used professionalism against people. He predicted that Jackson would give Stone a lenient sentence in the name of being “reasonable,” or “fair” or “unbiased” or “professional.” In doing so, she failed to send a message that the justice system is going to fight.
This morning, when I first heard the reporting that she was talking tough in court, I knew we were in big trouble. In highly publicized cases like this, when judges talk tough, they sentence light.
“What did you expect.” My partner said to me as I was pacing around the house indignant at the lenient sentence and the reaction of the corporate media.
“I know, I know” I responded “but it’s like knowing somebody’s going to die and having it actually happen.”
“You thought you might be wrong?”
“I was hoping, hoping I might be wrong.”
But, I was not wrong. Of course, I was not wrong.
Tuesday night, Ari Melber had Melissa Murray on his show and she told a story about lecturing students. She was talking about Nixon vs. Fitzgerald. She told her students that in immunizing the president from civil suits the courts did not make him a king. He was still subject to other checks – the impeachment process, the free press, the effect on his legacy. Her students, 112 men and women learning to be lawyers, laughed at her. Well they should have. I would have laughed at her.
Murray, as much as I love her, is another of those people (like Joyce Vance, Chuck Rosenberg and others) who’s identity is bound up with believing a fairy tale. That fairy tale is that there are people with integrity who will stand up to injustice, corruption and the destruction of democracy. The fairy tale is that these people will step up and save us. They will not. We live in a society largely made up of conformists, of cowards, of people who are too timid and too comfortable to rock the boat. Their careers and their inflated salaries are more important to them than their county, democracy or justice.
Jackson said in her decision today that the truth matters. Maybe, but justice evidently does not.