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Capitol Riot Indictments Closing In On Trump Inner Circle

Last week's indictment of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for seditionist conspiracy revealed more than simply the mountain of evidence that the Justice Department has acquired in the prosecutions of key players in the January 6 Capitol insurrection. It also made clear the DOJ’s larger strategy of moving up the food chain of players in the historic attack—with Donald Trump and his inner circle now only steps away.

Much of the attention has focused on former Trump adviser Roger Stone, whose connections to the “Patriot” movement—and particularly to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who spearheaded the siege of the Capitol—are well established; indeed, earlier on Jan. 6, two Oath Keepers now charged alongside Rhodes with sedition in the conspiracy were part of Stone’s personal security detail. But as Marcy Wheeler incisively reports, more recent court documents also make clear that the investigation into militia groups’ activities that day now encompasses Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Stone’s connections to the Oath Keepers and Rhodes, as Jennifer Cohn recently laid out, date back to at least 2014, when he was part of the scene at the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada, where the Oath Keepers formed a significant presence. After Trump was elected, Stone became an ardent proponent of issuing a pardon for the Bundys in both the Nevada standoff and 2016 Malheur standoff prosecutions, appearing onstage with them in Las Vegas.

Those prosecutions ended up failing, so Trump instead pardoned the two Oregon ranchers whose imprisonment had fueled the Malheur standoff. Stone nonetheless remained a public ally of the Bundys; when Ammon Bundy announced his campaign for the Idaho governorship in 2021, Stone proudly endorsed him.

Stone also had a long relationship with another group that played a key role in the conspiracies to besiege the Capitol—the Proud Boys. In 2018, he was photographed flashing a white-nationalist “OK” sign with a group of Oregon Proud Boys in a tavern. He also was investigated by the FBI in 2019 for posting a message on Instagram that appeared to threaten a federal judge, which he blamed on Proud Boys, including national chairman Enrique Tarrio, who had been “helping” him with his social-media account.

Both Stone and Tarrio live in Florida and appear to have had multiple associations, including a meeting on December 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C., during the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as a warmup for January 6. Stone was seen in the video conferring both with Tarrio—who was arrested by D.C. police two days before the insurrection—and with Ethan Nordean, one of the key leaders of the group of Proud Boys who attacked the Capitol.

As Wheeler reported earlier, Stone also met with Kelly Meggs—leader of the Florida Oath Keepers and one of the key figures in the seditionist conspiracy case—two days before telling his cohorts that he was working out a cooperative agreement with Proud Boys leading up to what Meggs himself described as an “insurrection.”

However, most of the evidence introduced in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case so far offers little information about that connection on January 6, and there’s little in the evidence to suggest that Stone was directing or assisting them while they were providing security for him at the Ellipse, where Trump was speaking that morning. The most tantalizing clues involve the period when Stone was embedded in the Trump “War Room” at the Willard Hotel earlier that day.

Key figures in Trump’s circle—including Giuliani, as well as Steve Bannon, John Eastman, and other hardcore defenders of Trump’s “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 election—were circulating around the “command center” they had set up at the Willard. As it happens, so were members of a militia group called the 1st Amendment Patriots, who also had members stationed around the Capitol.

Oath Keepers, as Wheeler has reported, were providing security for the operations at the Willard. And after Stone departed for the Ellipse, according to text messages from indictee Joshua James—the Oath Keeper overseeing the detail—he complained bitterly that the detail at the Ellipse had failed to provide him with “VIP treatment.”

The Willard Hotel “War Room” happens to be the same nexus that has drawn Giuliani into the investigation, as Wheeler observed this week. While a Washington Post story last weekend concluded that the FBI doesn’t appear to be investigating the activities at the Willard, it also contained information indicating that FBI investigators have been pressing several defendants—all Oath Keepers and Proud Boys—about key figures at the morning rally and later at the Willard, including both Stone and Giuliani.

Rob Jenkins, a defense attorney representing multiple people linked to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, another far-right group, said prosecutors have been “pretty aggressive” in “seeking out information … that points to others’ involvement and culpability.”
They are interested, he said, in “preplanning, and participation in those preplanning on the part of the individuals who may not have come to D.C. on January 6 but were certainly part of the planned effort.” That includes both leaders in the groups and people who spoke at the rally on January 6, including close Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone, he said.

The DOJ, of course, already possesses most of Giuliani’s communications from that period as part their investigation into his business dealings, and maybe hunting for further corroboration of evidence already in hand or perhaps suggested in his texts. And if Trump’s personal lawyer is in their sights, the former president himself may well be next. Giuliani also has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, but it is not known how he will respond.

What’s become abundantly clear, however, is that DOJ is moving through these indictments strategically—only including evidence that builds their case publicly as well as internally, with the intent of inducing other defendants to turn state’s evidence as cooperating witnesses. It’s being extraordinarily careful about tipping its hand regarding its targets or its long-range strategy. It may be wisest to allow them to keep gathering and sifting, because that approach has proven the likeliest way to win in court and bring the insurrectionists—hopefully, all of them, all the way up the ladder—to accountability.

Republished with permission from Daily Kos

Roger Stone On Skid Row, Begs For Money To Avoid Prosecution

Conspiracy theorist, Trump ally, and wearer of mostly tacky overpriced clothes Roger Stone appeared for deposition before the January 6 select committee on Friday and as he broadcast earlier this month, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right in response to every question that was asked.

CNN reported Friday that Stone’s deposition took a little over an hour and when he made his exit from the meeting, he told reporters in his now painfully predictable rhetoric: “This is a witch hunt 3.0.”

One of the grievances he aired Friday was a line well-tread by Republicans in Congress since the committee’s inception.

Though he didn’t have much at all to tell the committee Friday, he did use the hours before his appointment to raise funds across social media. The panel is bogus, he cried, because “Speaker Pelosi rejected the appointment of Republicans to the committee and seated two anti-Trump Republicans.”

When the committee was proposed, GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy was given ample opportunity to negotiate terms with Pelosi but insisted that the probe of the January 6 attack extend to other unrelated incidents of violence. Pelosi also offered to form a committee that was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats but because McCarthy didn’t get every wish on his checklist ticked off, he soured on the deal and the House went forward with the commission anyway.

Investigators on the committee sought records and testimony from Stone because of his closeness to Trump in the run-up to the insurrection. Stone also regularly promoted Trump’s lies about election fraud and importantly, investigators believe Stone was funneling cash for the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement. The self-professed ‘dirty trickster’ was in D.C. multiple times before January 6, including a rally on December 12 urging Trump’s supporters to “fight until the bitter end to stop Biden from taking office.”

He was also at Freedom Plaza on January 5

Stone maintained on Friday that he was not on the Ellipse on January 6, nor was he at the Capitol during the siege.

“I was not at the Capitol and any claim, assertion, or even implication that I knew about or was involved in any way whatsoever with the illegal and politically counter-productive activities of January 6 is categorically false,” Stone said.

But video surfaced in February showing Stone in D.C. and near the Capitol that morning, and as reported by ABC News, “flanked by members of the Oath Keepers militia group.”

The select committee has pointed to Stone’s own promotion of his appearance at the ‘Stop the Steal’ event that day and has highlighted how Stone even went so far as to take donations to fund his “march to the Capitol.” That solicitation was first reported by Mother Jones.

The select committee is also investigating Stone’s ties to members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, both groups that the GOP operative has relied on for his personal security at various pro-Trump events. Some of those makeshift bodyguards have been indicted on crimes related to the attack on the Capitol.

Stone’s silence before Congress was expected and probably the best course of action for the aging interloper; he was convicted in November 2019 on seven felony counts, including impeding a congressional inquiry. Trump pardoned him last July. How the lapdog will now fare in Trump’s eyes will depend on events, but as was pointed out on Twitter Friday, the twice-impeached former president may not look so sunnily on his old friend:

In addition to Stone, John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark have also invoked the Fifth Amendment. Eastman crafted a six-point strategy to convince former Vice President Mike Pence that he could delay the certification. Clark, a former Justice Department official, according to records obtained by the committee, was engaged in a pressure campaign against Georgia state and election officials at Trump’s directive.

Stone Takes The Fifth As Select Committee Moves Contempt Charge Against Meadows

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

With his deposition scheduled for next week, a longtime ally to former President Donald Trump and self-proclaimed dirty trickster Roger Stone has informed the January 6 select committee that he will invoke the Fifth Amendment as he seeks to evade testifying.

NBC was first to report the decision, which was sent in a letter from Stone’s attorney Grant Smith to the committee on Wednesday. In addition to invoking the amendment as it relates to his testimony, this also applies to any physical records that the committee has sought.

Stone is now the third witness central to the committee’s probe that has said he will take the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination. Before Stone, John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark also invoked the amendment. Eastman was responsible for drafting a six-point strategy for former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results. Clark was allegedly at the center of a plot to oust his superiors at the Justice Department and install himself, with Trump’s blessing, so that the men could promote Trump’s debunked theories of election fraud to state officials.

Stone was slated to appear for a closed-door deposition on December 17. He was first subpoenaed on November 22. Though invoking the Fifth Amendment, Stone’s attorney said in the letter to committee chairman Bennie Thompson, the decision does not reflect confirmation of the existence of records sought by legislators.

Reportedly calling the committee’s requests “overbroad, overreaching and too wide-ranging to be deemed anything other than a fishing expedition,” in the letter, Stone’s attorney Grant Smith underlined that it was his client’s right to decline comment.

A day ago, Thompson, while speaking to reporters at CNN, said of those targets who have deployed their Fifth Amendment right: “Every American can do it. That’s one of the rights the Constitution guarantees.”

Stone fervently supported the former president’s lies about the outcome of the 2020 election. A series of documents already in the committee’s possession, credible media reports, and Stone’s own statements in the run-up to the attack drew the select committee’s attention to the longtime Republican operative.

The committee alleges Stone was in Washington, D.C. on January 5 and January 6 on the promise that he would lead a march to the U.S. Capitol. A month before the siege, he participated in a pro-Trump rally in Washington where he urged people to “fight until the bitter end.” His calls for battle were delivered as he reportedly had a goon squad made up of Oath Keepers members insulating him. The group is a white supremacist-leaning extremist militia organization.

Lawmakers have suggested Stone paid for his private security detail by directing people to make donations at a ‘Stop the Steal’ website. According to Mother Jones, the link was quickly removed after the insurrection exploded at the Capitol.

NBC reported that the letter from Stone’s attorney was dated December 6 and, in addition to the now-routine gripes from Trump’s inner circle about congressional overreach, the missive also criticized Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the select committee. Schiff and Stone tangled when Trump was impeached the first time and through his attorney on December 6, Stone slammed Schiff as “relentlessly misrepresenting evidence” regarding him.

Rep. Schiff did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the water grows deeper for other probe targets like Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows was informed on Wednesday that the committee will now advance criminal contempt proceedings against him since he has failed to cooperate with the panel.

Meadows has waffled on cooperation since his first subpoena on September 23. He initially agreed to sit for deposition and turned over some 6,000 pages of documents to the committee. But once excerpts of his memoir started circulating, revealed by Meadows that Trump lied about his Covid-19 status ahead of a presidential debate with Joe Biden, he backtracked.

On Tuesday, through his attorney, Meadows informed the panel he would no longer cooperate, citing the investigatory body’s pursuit of phone records from over 100 people. Chairman Thompson rebuffed Meadows’ assertion.

“Despite your very broad claims of privilege, Mr. Meadows has also produced documents that you apparently agree are relevant and not protected by any privilege at all,” Thompson wrote on December 7 [emphasis in original].

The record Meadows has produced so far include a November 7 email discussing alternate slates of electors as a part of the “direct and collateral attack” after the election, an email from January 5 containing a 38-page PowerPoint presentation entitled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN” that was to be distributed on Capitol Hill, and a January 5 email where Meadows discussed having the National Guard on standby.

Meadows also provided the committee with access to a text message where he responded to a member of congress, “I love it,” when talking about potentially picking alternate electors in key states. Another text held by the committee depicts Meadows and a January 6 rally organizer texting about the need for Trump to issue a statement condemning the attack.

The select committee revealed in its letter that Meadows also provided the body with a privilege log where he restricted access to hundreds upon hundreds of emails and over 1,000 texts. Meadow maintains those items are protected by executive privilege.

Meadows’ decision to forgo compliance has proven to the committee that he “does not intend to participate in a deposition” despite lacking a “legitimate legal basis” for his refusal.

“There is no legitimate legal basis for Mr. Meadows to refuse to cooperate with the select committee and answer questions about the documents he produced, the personal devices and accounts he used, the events he wrote about in his newly released book and, among other things, his other public statements,” Thompson wrote. “The committee is left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.”

House Panel Probing Capitol Riot Subpoenas Roger Stone And Alex Jones

By Patricia Zengerle and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The House of Representatives select committee probing the deadly January 6 riot at the Capitol said on Monday it issued subpoenas to Alex Jones, founder of the right-wing website Infowars, and Roger Stone, a veteran ally of former President Donald Trump.

The committee also issued subpoenas seeking documents and testimony from Dustin Stockton, a political activist linked to longtime Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Stockton's fiancee, Jennifer Lawrence.

Stockton and Lawrence were members of the group We Build the Wall, which was raided by federal agents in August 2020 as part of a fraud investigation.

It also issued a subpoena to Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Trump.

The panel has now issued more than three dozen subpoenas and received testimony from more than 200 witnesses.

Stone said in a statement he had not yet seen the subpoena, adding: "I had no advance knowledge of the events that took place at the Capitol on that day."

The four others who were issued the latest subpoenas did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bannon, who defied a subpoena from the House Select Committee, was indicted earlier this month on two counts of contempt of Congress.

A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6 in a failed attempt to prevent formal congressional certification of his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. The committee is scrutinizing Trump's actions relating to those events. Bannon is the first to face criminal charges arising from the panel's inquiry.

Nearly 700 people have been charged with taking part in the riot at the Capitol. It was the worst attack on the seat of the U.S. government since the War of 1812.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

‘MAGA Civil War’ Blows Up Between Gov. DeSantis And Roger Stone

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and veteran GOP operative Roger Stone are among former President Donald Trump's most strident allies, and neither is shy about downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging voter suppression, or promoting the false claim that Trump was a victim of widespread voter fraud in 2020. But according to Politico's Gary Fineout, there is considerable tension between Stone and DeSantis these days — and he lays out some of the reasons for this "MAGA civil war."

Fineout explains, "This is the MAGA civil war liberals dream about: Roger Stone vs. Ron DeSantis…. Stone, the long-time ally of Donald Trump and political provocateur in this state, has been ratcheting up pressure against the governor. He's calling on him to audit the 2020 election — he hasn't — and then, this past weekend, saying DeSantis should promise now to not run for president if he wins reelection even if Trump doesn't seek another term. He hasn't."

DeSantis was elected governor of Florida in the 2018 midterms, narrowly defeating progressive Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum — and the far-right Republican is up for reelection in 2022. Stone, Fineout notes, has threatened to run against DeSantis as a Libertarian. DeSantis, in response, said that Stone can't run against him because he is a "convicted felon," but Stone is arguing that because Trump pardoned him for the federal crimes he was sentenced to federal prison for, his right to run for governor of Florida remains.

According to Fineout, "Stone can't run as a Libertarian anyway because he is a registered Republican right now. Florida law says you can't switch parties to run for office if qualifying is less than a year away."

In an e-mail he sent out on Monday, November 8, Fineout reports, Stone wrote, "Let's just say that in the event that he does not elect to run, let's just say that Gov. Ron DeSantis would not be the candidate I support. Republicans, conservatives and Trump supporters across the nation who are impressed with our governor with his high flying rhetoric, must focus carefully on his public policy decisions."

Trump For House Speaker Is A Bannon Brainstorm

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Following former President Donald Trump's June 4 remark that the idea of becoming speaker of the House after the 2022 midterm election is "very interesting" to him, political media has been abuzz with speculation. The idea has been making rounds in right-wing spheres in various iterations since January, when it was first championed by former White House chief strategist, election conspiracy-theorist-in-chief, and enchanted pile of dirty laundry Steve Bannon.

On January 21, conservative influencer Rogan O'Handley, who goes by "DC Draino" online, appeared on Bannon's show War Room: Pandemic to discuss his tweet, in which he had proposed that "Trump run for Congress in Florida in '22" and become speaker of the House, after which he can "impeach Kamala" -- a remark that suggests Biden would not be president in 2023.

During the show, Bannon effusively praised O'Handley's idea. He said the possibility of Trump, the only former president to incite an insurrection, becoming speaker in 2023 means "we don't have to wait until 2024 to have a presidential election. This nationalizes the midterm elections" and "gives a unifying message" for Trump's base to rally around.

Bannon also correctly noted that Trump could be elected speaker without being a member of Congress, and he endorsed focusing on winning "the House of Representatives, [which is] what thwarted Donald J. Trump" in his last two years in office. O'Handley implored Trump to not "let them end your presidency by what they did to you, get revenge plus take back the country." (Just over a month after this appearance, O'Handley was permanently banned from Twitter for "repeated violations of its civic integrity policy.")

In February, Bannon floated the idea in remarks he gave to the Boston area West Roxbury Ward 20 Republican Committee. According to the Boston Herald, Bannon said Trump's base will "totally get rid of" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the midterms "and the first act of President Trump as speaker will be to impeach Joe Biden for his illegitimate activities of stealing the presidency."

In April, right-wing publication the Washington Examiner ran a piece with the headline "Buzz: Trump for speaker and Pence unlikely to head Heritage." The opinion piece cited former CNN commentator Ed Martin, who said, "I'm serious. We need the Trump voters. … With the possibility of having Donald Trump as speaker, conservative voter turnout would be through the roof nationwide."

Trump's June 4 remarks to his friend and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root calling the idea "very interesting" thrust the simmering rumor back into the spotlight. On June 5, Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz noted on Fox & Friends Weekend that "you don't need to be a member of Congress to be elected the speaker of the House," saying Trump becoming the speaker "would make for great TV."

On the morning of June 7, Fox Business' Stuart Varney asked Trump about a potential run in 2022, to which Trump said it was "highly unlikely" he would seek a seat in the House of Representatives.

Still, Bannon remains bullish on the idea. The same day as Trump's comment to Varney, Bannon appeared on right-wing radio personality John Fredericks' show and said, "Donald Trump will take over, at least on an interim basis, as speaker of the House to take the gavel from Nancy Pelosi and then to gavel in the impeachment panel to impeach Joe Biden." He credited O'Handley for originating the idea and said, "I helped take it to the next level. He wanted him to run for Congress. You do not have to be a member of Congress to be speaker."

Steve Bannon Predicts Trump will Become U.S. House Speaker in 2023

Not everyone in Trump's orbit is in line with Bannon's latest scheme. For his part, dirty trickster Roger Stone, who has despised Bannon for years, said in a video posted online on June 6, "So, sloppy Steve Bannon thinks that former President Trump should run for the House of Representatives, become speaker, and lead the impeachment of Joe Biden. Here's the problem with this plan: What happens if Trump himself is elected to Congress, but the feckless, gutless, weak-kneed Republicans fail to take a majority?"

They Fear Trump More Than They Love America

Despite the compelling facts and arguments mustered by the House impeachment managers during their presentation to the Senate, it is depressingly clear that Donald Trump almost certainly will escape conviction for encouraging, inciting, allowing, and then praising his mob's assault on the U.S. Capitol.

A courageous handful of Republican senators will vote to hold him accountable, but the rest remain deeply fearful of the former president and his most violent followers. The timeline of his conduct on Jan. 6, which proved his perfidy beyond any doubt, surely proved his guilt — as some will no doubt privately confess. What they also learned, however, is just how far Trump will go to punish any politician who places loyalty to the Constitution over fealty to him. He will enforce the Fuhrer principle, and they will bow down.

Over two days of exposition, the House impeachment managers showed how Trump spent months creating an atmosphere of paranoia and violence that led inexorably to the Jan. 6 attack. He has long encouraged physical intimidation of adversaries (always by other people, not him), and his thuggishness intensified during the election year: He acclaimed the Michigan "militia" gang that took over the state capitol, and he applauded the "patriots" who tried to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off a Texas highway. They did nothing wrong, he said.

So the deadly violence that concluded his presidency should have surprised nobody. In the months and years to come, we will learn much more about the specifics of Trump's involvement with the forces behind the Capitol insurrection, from the "Stop the Steal" movement — invented by his longtime political consigliere Roger Stone — to the paramilitary Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Those two groups, especially the Proud Boys, are also closely associated with Stone, who insists that all his political activism is "peaceful." We shall see what the Proud Boys say about all that when they're facing serious prison time.

Meanwhile, the Republicans sitting in judgment of Trump have seen just how merciless he can be toward even his most loyal lackeys when his dictatorial ambitions are thwarted. The most compelling proof of guilt put forward by the House managers concerns how Trump acted when the attack was under way. He refused to call off his followers — who believed they were acting on his orders. And he brushed aside the pleas for help from his fellow Republicans, besieged inside the Capitol and in the gravest peril.

When he learned that Mike Pence was in grave danger, Trump showed no trace of concern for his vice president, whose obsequious servility had become a national joke. No, Pence had committed the unforgivable offense of honoring his patriotic responsibility over Trump's interests and desires. With due diligence, Pence had established that he could not overturn the election on January 6 by rejecting the electoral ballots sent by the states. It was a decision that almost cost him his life, as the Trump thugs roamed the Capitol hallways screaming, "Hang Mike Pence!"

Rather than determine whether the vice president (and his wife) were safe, Trump only pursued his obsession with stopping the electoral certification. He called Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and Tuberville cut the call short, explaining to Trump that the mob was approaching and the cops were trying to escort Pence to a safer place. Within minutes of Trump learning that such deadly mayhem had broken loose on the Hill, he tweeted out a vicious attack on the vulnerable vice president.

Yet now, knowing what they know about his character and conduct, the majority of "conservative" senators are still serving Trump. A handful of them have even violated their oath of impartiality to meet with his incompetent attorneys and advise them.

This is the craven behavior that allows dictators to triumph. Whatever comes, history will despise the cowards who let Trump escape judgment.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Trump’s Abuse Of Pardon Power Reveals That He’s Just A Crime Boss

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The 41 pardons Donald Trump granted last week drew a lot of attention, but few seemed to notice the message Trump sent by not pardoning some.

Trump's choices made clear he is a crime boss.

Four Blackwater mercenaries who, working for Trump ally Erik Prince murdered Iraqi civilians, were pardoned. But there was no pardon for Jeremy Ridgeway, the soldier-for-hire who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Roger Stone, dirty trickster confidant; former General Michael Flynn, national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort were pardoned. But Trump didn't pardon Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state's evidence and confessed.

Earlier, Trump pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted co-conspirator "Individual 1," identified in federal court as Trump.

In true mobster fashion, Trump once referred to Cohen as a "rat" for confessing. He praised Manafort for not "flipping" to testify against him.

A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents and even to direct political murders.

The names of those pardoned, and sometimes the names of those not pardoned, have appeared in news reports and opinion columns, but there was no connecting the dots to show the pattern and its meaning. The pattern reveals a crystal clear message to lawyers for those considering ratting out Trump or already working with authorities to rein in the Trump crime family:

The boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement.

Given Trump's many attacks on the FBI and other law enforcement, this should surprise no one, especially journalists. Yet my fellow journalists didn't point this out.

Missing The Story

How is it that none of our major news organizations figured this out? Hint: They rely too much on the official version of events, official announcements, and access instead of thinking and exercising reportorial authority.They are afraid they will be seen as biased or tendentious.

If Trump declared the sun rises in the West, many news organizations would avoid reporting that as false, crazy, or nonsense. Some would focus on how the sun only appears to rise, never mind that it appears to rise in the East.

The pardons issued so far raise grave questions about the future of our democracy. The actions have received less comment than outrage over the brazen abuse of the pardon power, especially as part of a scheme to obstruct justice.

Think about what will happen if someone as lawless as Trump ever again becomes president. Imagine a president with much more skill, smarts, and vigor, and one with better lawyers. A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders so long as they were committed in federal jurisdictions. The presidential pardon, remember, applies only to federal crimes.

Trump behaved last week exactly as any crime boss would act if he could exercise the powers of the American presidency:

Show mercy to criminals, especially criminals who have aided your crimes or whose supporters may be useful to you in the future, but do nothing for those who did the right thing once they were caught and helped bring others to justice.

Trump Helped Cocaine Trafficker Buddy

This is exactly what Trump, as a private citizen, did in a series of extraordinary favors for a major international cocaine and marijuana trafficker with whom he had extensive, close business ties.

In that case, Trump sought mercy for three-time felon Joseph Weichselbaum. The trafficker managed and piloted Trump's helicopter in the 1980s, supplied Trump with a fleet of helicopters to ferry high rollers to Atlantic City, and rented a luxury Manhattan apartment from Trump under a lease that obscured rent costs.

In a 1986 letter to the sentencing judge, Trump called Weichselbaum "a credit to the community." Trump wrote Weichselbaum should serve no prison time for a long-running scheme in which 20-year sentences went to the mules—people who drove cars and vans loaded with drugs from Miami to Cincinnati.

Carefully read, Trump's letter was really directed not at the judge, but at Weichselbaum.

Trump's clear message to his buddy: Don't rat me out and I'll take care of you.

Cocaine trafficker Weichselbaum spent just 18 months in a Manhattan prison. He paid only a token sum on his $30,000 federal fine because he said he was broke. Yet, he moved from prison to a $2.4 million double apartment at Trump Tower. The Trump Organization also gave him a new job—as Trump's helicopter consultant.

Now is the time to demand that Congress act to protect us from a future lawless president so the pardon power cannot be a balm to criminal pals and an ax to eviscerate our liberties and our control of our government.