Op-Ed: The Continuing Ruminations from Chairman Norm

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The Roger Stone arrest by the FBI has dominated local and national news blocks the past week. There are three issues that should trouble you about this case.

First, the display of force by the FBI in effectuating the arrest was demonstratively, irreversibly stupid, and unnecessarily heavy-handed.  A call to his attorney would have sufficed, and he could have turned himself in to a battery of waiting news crews.

Instead, your government deployed a small army of armed agents with machine guns to take 66-year-old Mr. Stone into custody. Really? Were they trying to punish someone for exercising his right to remain silent? 

Is the penalty for standing your ground and claiming your innocence to be treated like a person who is already guilty? Is there some new federal rule of criminal procedure barring the FBI from letting an accused person surrender like a gentleman?

We have seen this behavior before, like when drunks are grabbed by the top of the head and shoved into the back of a police car. But they are usually throwing up on the cops. Here, the FBI threw up on the judicial system. They look foolish and made the special prosecutor’s office look very, very bad.

Hours after being taken into custody by the Department of Justice under a show of force, their very lawyers for the United States said Mr. Stone was no flight risk. He was released on a signature bond, 29 federal swat units and machine guns later. Stone’s a great cook. He could have made them all breakfast instead.

I confess to some bias. Politics, it has been said, has strange bedfellows. Roger and I have worked together to promote the decriminalization of marijuana. He is an outspoken libertarian who has also supported gay rights as well. In the publishing business, you learn to respect advocates and adversaries. You reach across the aisles and find friends, not enemies.

The second bothersome part of Mr. Stone’s arrest is the accusations do nothing to lend credence to the claim that Donald Trump and his cadre of criminals worked with any Russian government officials to collude regarding the outcome of the election. 

Once again, the special prosecutor has unearthed a series of things that happened a year after the election took place. I don’t think when Congress decided to investigate Russian and Republican conspiracies into the 2016 campaign they had in mind Roger Stone purportedly threatening his friend’s Chihuahua, or Paul Manafort lying about his taxes in 1938.  Where is the beef?

Anyway, as a publisher and news junkie, I want the special prosecutor to get to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I want our citizens and the public to read, see and hear everything and anything there is to learn about this case, especially if the final report reveals a foreign adversary or government officials corruptly colluded and conspired to fix a national election.

For me, the most troubling aspect of Stone’s case is the possibility that the judge assigned to hear the case will impose another gag restriction on the lawyers and witnesses, along with their clients. Why? We can handle the truth.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with the public learning and knowing everything there is to know about the alleged collusion of Russia into a presidential election. Isn’t that why they ordered an investigation in the first place?

Besides, the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States and the head of the Department of Justice. If Mr. Trump can tweet and say anything he wants at any time about this case, then it stands to reason that any person accused by the special prosecutor ought to have that same, equal right.  Correct? What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

After forty years as a criminal defense attorney, I generally do not advise clients to talk about their case. You do have a right to remain silent. The beautiful, stuffed blue Marlin gracing the wall of my law office is only there because he opened his big mouth. He could have still been surfing in beautiful Bahamian waters.

I tell people to shut up all the time, and get paid for it. But if a defendant does not want to be silenced, they have that right, too. Gag orders are constitutionally offensive and morally reprehensible.

We learned about Watergate by patriots acting as anonymous sources.

We learned about our government lying to us about Southeast Asia from an analyst publishing the Pentagon Papers.

We learn from whistleblowers. We even pay them lots of money if they win their Qui Tam lawsuits, exposing government frauds.

In fact, on a related matter, there is something utterly ironic about Trump’s White House staffers being required to sign non-disclosure agreements. Why are they so afraid of books? None of them can read, anyway.

Look, we have a president who tweets and talks the night and day away. He gets to disclose anything he wants anytime he wants to. Yet, he demands others shut up.  That is simply not fair, not equal, and not right. No one should stand for it. Challenge censorship at every turn.

Related to these discussions are stunning and shocking revelations that there are forces in the government who want to seal potentially damaging aspects of Robert Mueller’s final report. Let’s hope not.  Those comments are unsettling. You don’t seal the truth. You seize it and run with it, not from it.

In our lives, and at this paper, the light of day and transparency is the best disinfectant. Ours is a community and this is a country that can survive honesty. We praise our victories. We have to reveal our wounds. We have to open up some along the way. This week, we do.

This week, SFGN treads into controversial territory. Our friends at Equality Florida are locked in a battle royal with other friends, politicians and LGBT leaders over the propriety of a statewide gay rights bill that may not even pass. Whether it does or not, good people are throwing bad words at each other to make their points. It may not be pleasant, but don’t worry, we will all survive.

Our job at SFGN is to give voice to the debate, air to the discussion, and allow opposing sides to argue their case. With accuracy and honesty as our guide, we chart our course.

You as the reader get to review the issues and decide on where you land. All we do is create the conditions for you to choose. Freedom means you get to make choices, to be smart or stupid; silent or spoken; right or wrong. 

So don’t shoot the messenger. Freedom also means supporting the right of a free press to shake down that oak tree to see if it is firmly planted in the ground or shaking at the roots.

Have a great week.

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