Even though Trump let Stone’s felony conviction stand, he criticized both the decision to prosecute and the sentence handed down as unjust. To Trump and most of his followers, Stone’s plight was just the latest travesty arising from Robert Mueller’s probe into the “Russia collusion” allegations.
To the president’s critics, though, sparing Stone from serving time in prison was more evidence of Trump’s abuse of power and contempt for America’s constitutional system. The ever‐helpful Washington Post even noted that in making the decision about Stone, the White House bypassed more than 13,000 other federal inmates who were seeking pardons or commutations. The implication was obvious: this was a corrupt payoff to a political crony involved in the Russia collusion plot.
Trump’s intervention is certainly controversial, and it suggests favoritism to an administration loyalist. But it is hardly the worst case in which a very different, far more lenient, standard of justice existed with respect to a powerful, politically connected figure in the foreign policy arena. Two other examples stand out as especially egregious: the sweetheart deals given to Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser, Samuel R “Sandy” Berger, and former CIA director David Petraeus.
After leaving the Clinton administration, Berger served as a top foreign policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) during Kerry’s 2004 run for president. Indeed, Berger was widely thought to be on Kerry’s short list to become secretary of state. But evidence emerged during the campaign that in 2000 Berger had illegally removed classified documents on two separate occasions from the National Archives—reportedly by stuffing them down his pants before exiting a secure reading room. The following year, after months of negotiations with federal prosecutors, he entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. It was, to put it mildly, an extremely generous offer by the government. Berger’s theft of highly classified materials was brazen, and worse, evidence emerged that he did not merely steal the documents, he destroyed three of them—all, according to his testimony, copies rather than originals.
Treating such violations of law as a mere misdemeanor was the essence of a sweetheart deal. But the penalty phase of the plea bargain was even worse. Not only did Berger avoid having to serve any jail time, the penalties he did experience barely amounted to a slap on the wrist. He paid a $50,000 fine and relinquished his security clearance for three years. The court also sentenced him to 100 hours of community service. Someone with Berger’s economic status probably could pay $50,000 out of the family’s petty cash account. And losing access to classified material for only three years instead of permanently was an insult to every government employee who had honored the rules connected with such access.
The Petraeus case appeared to be an even clearer example of the Washington establishment protecting one of its own. His criminal conduct occurred when he served as the commander of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, although it did not come to light until later when he was head of the CIA during the Obama administration. After a lengthy FBI investigation, Petraeus admitted that he gave highly‐classified journals to his lover, Paula Broadwell, who was writing his biography. The journals contained extremely sensitive information about the identities of covert officers, military strategy in the Afghan theater, intelligence capabilities and even discussions Petraeus had with senior government officials, up to and including President Obama. Petraeus also admitted that he had lied to FBI and CIA investigators about his conduct when first questioned.