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A 'remarkable universe of criminality' surrounds Trump

As Roger Stone comes to terms with his 40-month prison sentence, it's striking to see the number of convicted criminals in Donald Trump's orbit.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 7, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 7, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Republican operative Roger Stone received a 40-month prison sentence this morning for lying to Congress, intimidating a witness, and obstructing an investigation. And while time will tell whether Donald Trump will intervene formally to rescue his friend who lied on his behalf, an unflattering image is taking shape.

Stone is one of several Trump advisers and confidants who have either been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe. That list includes former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Taken together, it's striking to see what the Washington Post described a while back as "the remarkable universe of criminality" surrounding the sitting president of the United States.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the number of criminals is important, but so too is the degree to which this dynamic conflicts with the message Trump has been eager to trumpet. As regular readers know, the president presents himself as being aggressively “tough on crime,” which he frequently tries to incorporate into his agenda. Last year, for example, while making the case for a border wall, the Republican declared, “The Democrats, which I’ve been saying all along, they don’t give a damn about crime. They don’t care about crime…. But I care about crime.”

Of course, given recent events, it’s hardly unreasonable to wonder whether he cares about crime or about surrounding himself with people who’ve committed crimes?

Let’s take stock of the number of Trump aides, confidants, and associates who’ve faced felony charges:

* Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser and former campaign aide, has been sentenced to 40 months in prison.

* Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and business associate, is currently in prison, serving a three-year sentence.

* Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is currently in prison, serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence.

* Rick Gates, Trump’s former campaign vice chairman, was convicted and has completed his prison sentence.

* Michael Flynn, Trump’s former White House national security advisor, is awaiting sentencing.

* George Papadopoulos, Trump’s former campaign advisor on foreign policy, was convicted and has completed his prison sentence.

* Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who worked with Manafort and Gates. was convicted and has completed his prison sentence.

And those are just the top-line indictments. It doesn’t include the prison sentence for Richard Pinedo, the charges against related characters such as Sam Patten and Maria Butina, and, of course, the many Russian individuals and entities who’ve been indicted by the special counsel.

It also doesn't include Rudy Giuliani, who's reportedly facing a criminal investigation.

In November 2018, the president wrote, in reference to the Mueller probe, “Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime?”

It was absurd at the time (Cohen made a surprise appearance in a New York courtroom to plead guilty to a new criminal charge a few hours after the tweet was published). It’s quite a bit worse now.