The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.
By Gregory Stejskal
Last week two peoples’ lives changed dramatically. One avoided jail. The other’s military career ended prematurely.
On Friday evening, the White House announced that President Trump had commuted Roger Stone’s 40-month prison term. Stone, a longtime friend of Trump and a self-described “dirty trickster,” had made no secret of his desire to receive a pardon or clemency from the president. He made it known that he had remained “loyal” to the president. Actually, he had gone beyond loyalty and committed perjury by lying to Congress and threatening a potential witness.
The subject of his lies was his knowledge of Wikileaks' possession and ultimate distribution of emails that a Russian intelligence agency had hacked from the Democratic National Committee. He had acted as a go-between for the Trump campaign with Wikileaks. Stone refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, ostensibly to protect the president.
He was charged with seven counts, including perjury, obstruction of Congress and witness tampering. He was convicted by a jury on all seven counts and sentenced to 40 months in prison.
At his sentencing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Stone “was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president, he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
Until last week, Stone had been trying to postpone the day he would begin serving his sentence Stone claimed he had respiratory issues and was concerned about being vulnerable to Covid-19 if he were incarcerated. He may also have been anxious about being in a communal shower, as he has a tattoo of his idol, Richard Nixon, on his upper back.
Because Stone’s sentence was commuted, he will not be going to jail, but remains a convicted felon.
In late February 2020, very soon after President Trump was acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial, Trump began to exact retribution against witnesses who had testified in the impeachment hearings.
One of them, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, was fired from his position on the National Security Council and escorted out of the White House. Vindman remained in the Army but recently learned that he was not on the promotion list to be a full colonel. In the military if you are not promoted, it is a not-so-subtle indicator that your career is over. Consequently, last week Vindman decided to retire.
His testimony had incurred the wrath of the Commander-in-Chief.
Vindman has a classic, and admirable, immigrant story. His Jewish family fled Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union, when Alexander was 3. His mother had died, and his father believed his three sons’ future would be better in America. After first going to Italy, they were able to get visas to emigrate to the U.S.
They settled in the Brighton Beach area of New York City. It was difficult financially and Vindman’s father had to work several jobs. He also took English lessons at night. He told his family how important it was to assimilate into their new country and the importance of education.
Vindman and his brothers went to college, participated in ROTC and after graduation, joined the Army. Vindman, fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian, earned a master’s degree in Russian and East European studies from Harvard. In 2003, as an infantry officer, he was deployed to Iraq where he was wounded by an IED explosion and received the Purple Heart.
'Live free of fear'
In October 2019, Vindman was subpoenaed to testify in the impeachment hearings. In his opening statement, he said: “I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America … more than two decades as an officer in the U.S. Army. ...”
“My simple act of appearing here today…. would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.
"I am grateful for my father’s brave act 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.”
So, last week we saw the consequences of Trump’s acts:
A career soldier who believed he was doing his duty for his country and the Constitution which he swore an oath to protect and defend, was forced to retire from the U.S. Army.
And a career “dirty trickster” who took an oath to tell the truth but chose to lie to Congress and threatened a potential witness, who then taunted the criminal justice system, will not be incarcerated, because he had the ultimate "get out of jail free" card.
As we look towards the presidential election and who the president chooses to reward or punish, it would be good to ask ourselves which of these men personifies the values for which our country should stand.