Trump and the American presidency's pardon powers

Roger Stone, a former adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, leaves the Prettyman United States Courthouse after a hearing February 1, 2019 in Washington, DC.

This was excerpted from the July 13 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)Not even Richard Nixon went this far.

President Donald Trump has commuted Republican political fixer Roger Stone's jail term, exposing the corrupt foundation on which he built his administration, and flouting the basic democratic principle that everyone is equal before the law -- even the President and his 'dirty trickster.'
Stone had been convicted of lying to Congress and threatening a witness to obscure links between Trump's 2016 campaign and Wikileaks, which published Hillary Clinton emails stolen by Russian intelligence. He was spared from doing time because he refused to turn on the President, Stone told MSNBC journalist Howard Fineman, implying yet another deal devised to obstruct justice.
Trump says that Stone was the victim of a "hoax" investigation and that lawless prosecutors targeted him because they lacked evidence against Trump himself. None of that is true: The FBI opened the probe in the first place because of contacts between Trump's team and Russia, whose spies did meddle in the US election.
    Not for the first time, Trump has shown he will abuse his office to protect himself, in this case using a President's sweeping pardon powers -- a step not taken even by Nixon, for whom Stone also once spun his dark arts. And what are Democrats going to do about it -- impeach Trump again in the knowledge that he will again be shielded from conviction by Senate Republicans?
    Stone meanwhile might soon be heading for a tattoo parlor to memorialize his lucky escape -- perhaps it's time for a companion to the likeness of the 37th President already etched between his shoulder blades.
    A young Stone with former president Richard Nixon, from Stone's Facebook page.

    'Create as much chaos ... as possible'

    The state of California, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are all suing the Trump administration over its decision to force foreign students to only take in-person courses this fall or face deportation. "This Trump administration policy turns our universities into hotspots of the disease. This policy is just unlawful, it's dangerous and it's morally reprehensible," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a virtual news conference on Thursday. "By all appearances, ICE's decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes," the joint lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT read. "The effect—and perhaps even the goal—is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible," it also said.

    The President and his mask

    President Donald Trump wears a mask as he walks down the hallway during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Saturday, July 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    After more than 135,000 deaths and 3 million confirmed US coronavirus cases, Trump finally put on his mask.
    Though he spent months undermining pleas by government scientists and doctors to cover up, Trump's image-makers couldn't resist turning his Saturday visit to a military hospital into another twist of his personality cult: He marched into view flanked by top military officers and wearing a mask bearing the presidential seal, as if trying to recreate the iconic moment from Quentin Tarantino's movie "Reservoir Dogs."
    The photo-op appeared to send his subordinates into a swoon. "#AmericaFirst," tweeted his campaign manager Brad Parscale. "Goodnight,@JoeBiden" wrote Trump 2020 flak Boris Epshteyn.
    But that it's even notable for a President to follow his own government's health advice says everything about how Trump has politicized one of the worst US health crises in 100 years.
    And the absurdity of Trump's team genuflecting over their boss just because he finally wore a mask on camera -- long after every other US leader -- begs the question of whether they were simply buttering him up to convince him that he looked great and should keep wearing one.

      'I cannot help but have doubts about the kind of infection prevention measures the US has been taking until now'

      Okinawa's governor Denny Tamaki said he was "shocked" after a "large number" of US Marines stationed on the Japanese island tested positive for the coronavirus. "It is extremely regrettable that a large number of cases are occurring in a short period of time at a time when all Okinawans are trying so hard to prevent the infection from spreading," said Tamaki. On Thursday, the island's Marine Corps Base Camp Butler confirmed in a press release that "several" personnel at the camp tested positive for the virus. "I cannot help but have doubts about the kind of infection prevention measures the US has been taking until now," Tamaki added.