Roger Stone’s arrest Friday has caused outrage on the right — at the FBI.
Stone was arrested by dozens of FBI agents (Stone says at least 29) in a pre-dawn raid on his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home and charged with obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. He was released from custody a few hours later on a $250,000 bond.
Since then, Stone and conservative media commentators have complained about these tactics. They’ve argued there were too many armed agents, and that Stone — who’d long been expected to be indicted — should have been offered the opportunity to surrender voluntarily. (Investigators claimed that the reason for the early-morning arrest was to prevent Stone from potentially destroying documents.)
On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the FBI demanding they justify their tactics — “so that the American public can be reassured this arrest followed established methods and procedures.” President Trump weighed in too, saying he “thought it was very unusual.”
It fits with a pattern of the president and his allies being outraged by how the criminal justice system works when it affects Trump’s friends — and notably silent or even downright encouraging of aggressive law enforcement action aimed at others.
Stone’s current defense: the FBI was mean to me
Roger Stone, a longtime political “dirty trickster” who helped Paul Manafort get a job on the Trump campaign and is alleged to have lied to the House Intelligence Committee, has been making the argument that the FBI’s tactics in his arrest were too aggressive.
Stone even compared his arrest to the apprehension of Osama bin Laden, adding, “To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorize my wife and my dogs, it’s unconscionable.” (Both bin Laden and Escobar were shot to death when captured, bin Laden by SEAL Team 6 and Escobar either by Colombian police or by suicide.)
This became a frequent talking point on Fox News as well. “FBI under scrutiny for highly aggressive raid on Roger Stone’s home,” a chyron read during Sean Hannity’s show. “He is not El Chapo. He is not a Mafia figure. He is not being charged with a violent crime. He is lying to Congress,” Hannity said. “Do we really need tactical vehicles, armored guns drawn, pre-dawn raids, CNN cameras tipped off?” (CNN has said it was not tipped off but rather staked out his house speculatively.)
Then on Wednesday, Graham went so far as to take his concerns directly to the FBI, penning a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray to ask if it was necessary to arrest Stone at his home and questioning why a suspect who was “apparently willing” to surrender peacefully was awoken by a pre-dawn raid.
My questions and full letter to the FBI Director about the tactics used in the arrest of Roger Stone. pic.twitter.com/y1s67DF3Yu— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 30, 2019
As for Trump, he told the Daily Caller, “I’m speaking for a lot of people that were very disappointed to see that go down that way.” Complaining about the “29 people” and “armored vehicles” used, Trump said, “Roger is not a person that they would have to worry about from that standpoint. And I thought it was sad to see it. Very sad.”
I reached out to the FBI to ask about their response to Graham’s letter and criticism of the arrest of Stone, and was told they had “no comment” on either.
“You shouldn’t only start caring about these things when some rich, white, powerful elite is subjected to its abuses”
To be clear, there are good reasons to criticize common FBI practices regarding the arrest of non-violent suspects — as many supporters of criminal justice reform, on both the left and right, long have.
As Randy Petersen of Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote in an opinion piece for the Daily Caller, there are reasons for advocates of criminal justice reform to be somewhat concerned about an FBI raid that put 29 armed agents outside the home of a subject with a low propensity for violence (despite his best efforts to appear otherwise). “While this is not a commentary on the validity of the charges Stone faces, the most cursory of risk assessments would place him very low on the threat scale,” he wrote.
I reached out to Petersen for comment, and he told me that his objections to how Stone was taken into custody would apply to any similar suspect. “The issue is with the tactics and the number of agents involved. That it was a high-profile person being arrested gave it more publicity than the average arrestee,” he told me. “My observations have nothing to do with Stone. If a similar fact pattern existed for anyone else, my conclusions would be the same.”
But some of Stone’s defenders are remarkably selective about when they get outraged at excessive force from law enforcement.
Take former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who tweeted he’s been “busting down doors for 50 years and I’ve never sent that many units to the baddest murder” as the FBI used to arrest Stone.
Sheriff Joe on FBI's Roger Stone Raid: Ive Been Busting Down Doors for 50 Years &; Ive Never Sent That Many Units to the Baddest Murderer https://t.co/rEpaeD0Bgh— Sheriff Joe Arpaio (@RealSheriffJoe) January 29, 2019
As criminal justice reporter Radley Balko pointed out on Twitter, this is hilariously untrue. In 2011, Arpaio authorized sending an armored personnel carrier (piloted by actor Steven Seagal) and dozens of heavily armed SWAT team members to the home of a man suspected of running a cockfighting ring, even driving the APC through the man’s home. The entire arrest was filmed by a camera crew for Seagal’s television show Steven Seagal: Lawman.
As the Wrap wrote:
As a “Lawman” crew filmed the raid Monday, deputies serving a search warrant blew out the suspect’s windows and leveled his gate, frightening neighbors. Jesus Llovera, who was convicted last year of attending a cockfight but has no record of owning weapons, was arrested on charges of suspected cockfighting, Phoenix TV station KPHO reported. He was unarmed.
(Llovera later sued Seagal for killing his puppy during the raid.)
In response, journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted that “it shouldn’t take” the Stone FBI raid for Americans to recognize that the American criminal justice system has serious problems. Greenwald told me, “You shouldn’t only start caring about these things when some rich, white, powerful elite is subjected to its abuses. You should be caring about this all the time.” He added that his tweet was meant to be a critique of the Daily Caller “caring about criminal justice abuses because someone they like was subjected to it in a small, fractional way.”
The US is one of the planet's most oppressive penal states. It imprisons more of its citizens than any other: for longer sentences, for less serious crimes, and without convictions. It's grotesquely unequal by race & class. It shouldn't take this dubious raid to realize that. https://t.co/qWs5DOcaA8— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 31, 2019
And indeed, previous conversations of criminal justice reform by some outlets on the right have lacked significant nuance, particularly in cases that didn’t involve Trump associates. It’s worth noting that Trump, who has said he thinks the Stone raid was excessive, told a group of law enforcement officers in 2017 that police should treat suspects more roughly.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump said. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
As I’ve written previously, many conservatives are taking significant steps forward on criminal justice reform. But those who used Stone’s arrest as a sign of FBI overreach while simultaneously decrying the efforts of thousands of others to stop overpolicing and police militarization — or even arguing that those who are overpoliced somehow deserve it, provided they’re not Roger Stone — seem less than sincere.