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Opinion: A rare example of news balance

If you want to watch a cable news program that is not hopelessly skewed to one side of the ideological divide or the other, I recommend Smerconish on CNN, Saturdays at 9am. For those of us who are appalled by Donald Trump but still believe news should seek some semblance of balance, Smerconish is the only CNN show that actually tries to be objective.

Take the February 15th episode for example. For a few days we have been learning that US Attorney General William Barr apparently ordered prosecutors to dial back on a sentencing recommendation that would have seen Trump dirty trickster Roger Stone sentenced to 9 years for lying to Congress and trying to get somebody else to lie as well. Barr’s intervention has resulted in the resignation of several federal prosecutors from the case in protest. But Smerconish, himself a lawyer, as he so often does, deviated from the predictable knee jerk anti-Trump reaction, and asked the question that had been nagging me as well—is nine years in prison an appropriate sentence for being a liar? Keep in mind that unlike Canada, in the US if you get nine years you serve the best part of nine years—none of this parole after serving a third of the sentence that we have here. Scumbag as Stone may be, is nine years not too harsh a sentence?

Smerconish had as his guest, lawyer John Brownlee to discuss the issue. Mr. Brownlee served more than 10 years at the U.S. Department of Justice – both as the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He now is part of a firm that represents white collar defendants. Brownlee quickly offered his view that the proposed sentence is way too harsh and provided several recent similar examples where the sentences were much shorter—in most cases less than two years.  

The issue of prosecutorial overreach was well documented by Conrad Black in his book “A Matter of Principle”. He described a US justice system where, unless you are very rich, the courts are essentially an intake mechanism for a powerful private sector penal system. He described how prosecutors armed with the threat of draconian sentences, coerce sometimes innocent parties to confess to lesser crimes.

Barr’s frustration we think, is that he probably did the right thing in calling for a lower sentence, but because Donald Trump tweeted about the Stone sentencing, it looks like he kowtowed to Trump, whether he actually did or not. To that, some would say, “what goes around, comes around.”

John Best

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