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Why Matt Gaetz’s ‘hot mic’ pardon comments to Roger Stone matter

In dialog reminiscent of a clumsy scene in a ham-fisted organized crime film, Matt Gaetz talked to Roger Stone in 2019 about a pardon from Donald Trump.


Choosing the most corrupt of Donald Trump’s pardons is difficult, because there are just so many doozies to choose from. That said, the Republican’s intervention on behalf of Roger Stone is clearly a top contender for the ignominious honor: This was, after all, an instance in which a sitting president rescued a convicted felon who lied on his behalf as part of a broader cover-up.

It quickly became a case study in brazen White House corruption. The Washington Post’s editorial board called Trump’s move “nauseating,” adding that it was proof that the then-president was a “threat to the republic.” GOP Sen. Ben Sasse added that Trump’s pardon for the partisan operative was “rotten to the core.”

And yet, somehow, the sordid tale has managed to get just a little worse. The Washington Post reported:

As Roger Stone prepared to stand trial in 2019, complaining he was under pressure from federal prosecutors to incriminate Donald Trump, a close ally of the president repeatedly assured Stone that “the boss” would likely grant him clemency if he were convicted, a recording shows.

There was an amazing number of documentary film crews following assorted far-right figures in Donald Trump’s orbit, including Stone. As it turns out, one of them captured a highly provocative conversation between the longtime GOP operative and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

The controversial congressman, who’s under investigation on unrelated matters, was apparently aware of microphones in his midst, at one point telling Stone that he didn’t feel comfortable speaking “freely” because of the “many, many recording devices around right now.”

That said, the Floridian apparently had quite a bit to say anyway.

According to the recording obtained by the Post, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, Gaetz and Stone spoke in October 2019 at a Trump-owned property, shortly before the operative was poised to go on trial for crimes exposed by Robert Mueller’s investigation. As far as the congressman was concerned, Stone didn’t have to worry about the proceedings — not because he was innocent, but rather, because Trump was likely to reward his political ally.

“The boss still has a very favorable view of you,” Gaetz said, stressing that the then-president had “said it directly.” The congressman added, “I don’t think the big guy can let you go down for this.”

If this sounds like a clumsy scene in a ham-fisted organized crime film, it’s not your imagination.

Indeed, let’s not forget why Stone was headed to court in the first place. As we discussed a couple of years ago, in 2016, as Russia targeted U.S. elections, Moscow used stolen materials in order to help Trump take power. At the time, Stone positioned himself as the Republican campaign’s point person on WikiLeaks, which Russian operatives used to disseminate and weaponize the stolen documents. Team Trump was then able to leverage the Russian efforts, thanks to Stone effectively serving as the campaign’s inside man.

Stone proceeded to lie about all of this for a rather specific reason: He was trying to protect the then-president, whom he hoped would in turn shield him from punishment.

It was against this backdrop that one of Trump’s closest congressional allies spoke in private to the criminal defendant, told him he was likely to be convicted, but quickly added it wouldn’t matter because the then-president would ensure Stone didn’t “do a day” behind bars.

As part of the same conversation, Gaetz also appears to have shared undisclosed information from the redacted version of the Mueller report, which the Florida congressman was able to see thanks to his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

By way of an explanation, Gaetz told the Post he wasn’t speaking on Trump’s behalf — in other words, the congressman now claims he wasn’t some kind of emissary, delivering a White House message — and only shared generalities with the then-criminal defendant about the secret portions of the Mueller report. Gaetz added that he believes the recordings from the documentary film crew were “illegal,” a claim the filmmakers disputed.

It’s difficult to say what, if anything, will happen as a result of these revelations, but if Democrats start talking about removing Gaetz from the Judiciary Committee, there will be no great mystery as to why.