SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The commutation of Roger Stone's sentence may not have surprised much of anybody, but it has caused consternation in the legal community. Peter Zeidenberg is a former federal prosecutor, one of the prosecutors who prosecuted Scooter Libby in 2007. Libby, of course, was Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and was convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. President Trump pardoned him in 2018. Mr. Zeidenberg joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
PETER ZEIDENBERG: Good morning.
SIMON: You had the experience, sir, of winning the conviction of Scooter Libby. His sentence was later commuted by President George W. Bush. Is this commutation different?
ZEIDENBERG: I think it's significantly different, the difference being as Amy Berman Jackson said, who was the judge in the Roger Stone case, that Roger Stone was prosecuted for covering up for President Trump. He was protecting him. And that was what his lies to Congress were all about. That wasn't the case with Scooter Libby. You know, what he - his conduct was not meant to protect President Bush. And therefore, when President Bush acted to commute his sentence, it wasn't a benefit to President Bush. In other words, it didn't have this reek of corruption, where - which the Stone commutation does, in my opinion, because President Trump is doing this to reward someone who stayed quiet for him. It's - it really stinks.
SIMON: And how do you read a commutation versus a pardon, which a lot of people speculated would happen?
ZEIDENBERG: Well, in the Libby case, I mean - as a prosecutor in that case, I thought it was an improvement over a pardon because it was just a question of the actual punishment. But in this case, what's frightening about it and what's so alarming is there is a direct reward to a - someone who has information about the president which would be incriminating, and he's not having to pay a price for it. And that sends a message to others who may be investigated - who may be talked to by investigators, who want to get to the bottom of things. And they're being essentially told, if you stay quiet, you're not going to have to go to prison. You're not going to have to pay a price for this.
SIMON: Could Roger Stone be prosecuted again, particularly with so much information about him now out there and in possession of prosecutors?
ZEIDENBERG: I don't think so - not unless they're new and distinct from the crimes that already went to trial. And he is - in my opinion, he couldn't be touched again.
SIMON: Because of double jeopardy?
SIMON: By the way, I guess it's a leaf blower we're hearing behind you, right?
ZEIDENBERG: (Laughter) That's right.
SIMON: You should have a nice, tidy street by the end of this interview.
The Criminal Division in the Department of Justice been the subject of a lot of news stories over the last four years. You worked there - possibly still have friends and associates there. What's your assessment of how a presidential decision like this affects morale?
ZEIDENBERG: It's incredibly depressing for prosecutors to have something like this happen. You know, it's very telling that the prosecutors on the Stone case and actually on the Michael Flynn case withdrew from those prosecutions. They did not want to sign on the paper once DOJ and Attorney General Barr intervened. And that's telling. And it's incredibly frustrating to have what you consider to be a righteous prosecution interfered with in such an overtly corrupt way. It really undermines everything the Justice Department is supposed to be all about.
SIMON: Peter Zeidenberg, former federal prosecutor, now with the law firm Arent Fox. Thanks so much.
ZEIDENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.