Martha Stewart was released from federal prison March 4, 2005. She exited the pen more hard-as-nails and more admired than the day she entered the facility, where she earned the nickname “M. Diddy” while serving a five-month sentence for felony convictions of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to investigators.
Her six-week trial had enthralled the nation and national media. She was put in a West Virginia penitentiary where she endeared herself to fellow prisoners and took on a role as liaison between them and the prison administration. She went on to serve another two years under house arrest, while mounting a hit-and-miss comeback that more than 10 years later has secured her place among America’s iconic entrepreneurs and badasses.
Also, she is friends with Snoop Dogg.
For all she’s given us, she deserves a pardon. And I know just the guy to do it. Here are seven reasons Donald Trump should pardon Martha Stewart.
1. The Whole Thing Was Nonsense
If you ask an average American why Stewart went to jail, they’d probably tell you “insider trading.” In fact, that is not what brought her down. She was never charged with insider trading over the 2001 sale of ImClone stock that started the whole affair. She was charged with conspiring to lie about the crime with which she was never charged.
“Stewart has always asserted that she sold the stock because it fell below a ‘predetermined price [$60] at which she planned to sell,'” Slate reported. “The U.S. attorney, in contrast, alleges that Stewart sold because she heard that Sam Waksal, ImClone’s CEO, was trying to sell his own stock in the company. The alleged crimes, in any event, took place after the sale.”
That move, which she said she did on the advice of her broker, prevented a loss of about $45,000. The case for insider trading was weak, so the government went after her on more novel charges.
One was so novel it got tossed out by the judge. That particular legal theory was that because Stewart publicly professed her innocence of insider trading, she thereby propped up the value of her own company, with which her personal reputation was inextricably linked. That amounted to “securities fraud.”
There’s a reason “don’t make a federal case out of it” is a phrase for blowing something out of proportion, and this case is a perfect example. It shouldn’t have been a federal case, and Stewart shouldn’t have lost her freedom, her executive position, and a bunch of earning potential over it.
2. To Take A Swipe At Comey
Hey, we know what makes the guy tick. Guess who decided to go after Stewart on these charges when he was a federal prosecutor? James Comey. A pardon to Stewart would be a blow to Comey that is perfectly within Trump’s power and a much less controversial move than firing him was.
3. They’re Both Famous New Yorkers
As long as we have a celebrity president, let’s commence with some real celebrity justice. Stewart was arguably targeted aggressively because she was famous, despite Comey’s protestations otherwise at the time, so if she gets a break for the same reason because Trump is president, so be it.
“This criminal case is about lying. Lying to the FBI, lying to the SEC and lying to investors,” Comey, then the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a 2003 press conference. “That is conduct that will not be tolerated by anyone. Martha Stewart is being prosecuted not because of who she is, but because of what she did.”
Trump often does the right thing for the wrong reasons, and he’s now considering a pardon for heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson based on Sylvester Stallone’s recommendation. Good. Stewart’s a model-turned-hard-nosed-businesswoman-and-TV-personality. She sounds like a perfect candidate for piquing Trump’s fleeting interest and impulsive decision-making.
Stewart isn’t a native New Yorker, but the city has been home to her or her business since her marriage to Andrew Stewart in 1961 (they divorced in the ’80s and have one child). She recently revisited her old Upper East Side penthouse for a feature in New York Magazine, during which she was stripped once again of her rightful belongings when a pie plate went missing after the photoshoot in a scandal that set the world on fire.
One of the hallmarks of a Trump administration has been to introduce us to quintessentially New York characters and their special brand of famous rich people infighting. Give me Stewart over Cohen any day.
4. Because She Took Her Punishment With Dignity
One of the reasons Stewart is compelling is that despite the knock on her as cold and privileged, she took her lumps without complaint. She requested a sentence in a Connecticut or Florida prison so that her elderly mother could more easily visit her, but she was denied and ended up in West Virginia — a move even the Department of Justice worried looked “vindictive.” Her attorneys planned to appeal, but she decided to go ahead with her sentence, and she did it with the grace and aplomb she applies to every pie crust (whether she has her purloined pie plate or not). The appeal later failed.
In an era of Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons sobbing their way through day-long jail stays, when they weren’t missing court appearances for drunk driving, Stewart was a dignified breath of fresh air. She didn’t really do much of a crime, but she did the time. At every turn in the case, she defied the stereotype of a rich celebrity getting special treatment. For that alone, she should be officially forgiven.
5. Maybe We’ll Get To See Someone Refuse a Pardon
Is Martha Stewart badass enough to refuse a pardon? Now, that would be a power move. The woman has ice in her veins. I wouldn’t put it past her. Given the odd politics of the Trump era, there’s always a chance she calculates her crime and comeback are a long-completed chapter in her life and the optics of being given a pass by Trump aren’t worth her reinstatement as a non-felonious American in good standing. But the way this week is going, her bestie Snoop may be sporting a MAGA hat by Friday and he and Martha will show up at the White House with a perfect apple pie for Melania.
Either way, it’ll make great TV.
But it wouldn’t be the first time in history someone had turned down a pardon. George Wilson, convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail in Pennsylvania in 1829, was lobbied for by friends and awarded a pardon by President Andrew Jackson. He refused it, spurring a Supreme Court case to consider the odd turn of events. The Supreme Court ruled a pardon is a deed “the validity of which delivery is essential and delivery is not complete without acceptance.” Subsequent rulings determined accepting a pardon can be an admission of guilt and therefore must not compel a recipient to accept.
6. To Make His Own Point About Lying To Investigators
We’re in the middle of a bit of a national conversation about “lying to federal investigators.” Special Counsel Robert Mueller has slapped former Trump aides Gen. Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan on counts of “making false statements.” The charge of making false statements was added to Paul Manafort’s indictment. That’s entirely within Mueller’s purview, but should it be?
When there’s no underlying crime with which a person is charged, as in the Stewart case, the false statement can simply stand in as a way to prosecute, because the government couldn’t make its original case. Ken White writes in Reason:
In the old westerns, rather than take the trouble of hauling mustachioed miscreants to desultory trials, lawmen would often provoke them into drawing first, thus justifying shooting them down where they stood. A modern federal interview of a subject or target is like that. One purpose, arguably the primary purpose, is to provoke the foolish interviewee into lying, thus committing a new, fresh federal crime that is easily prosecuted, rendering the original investigation irrelevant. Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, which makes it a felony to lie to the feds, is their shiny quick-draw sidearm. This result not an exception; it is the rule. It happens again and again.
Consider George Papadopoulos. The special counsel secured his guilty plea not for improper contact with the Russians but for lying about that contact to the FBI. Consider Michael Flynn. He too pled guilty not to unlawful contact with Russians but to lying to the FBI about that contact. Consider Scooter Libby, or Martha Stewart, or Dennis Hastert, or James Cartwright, all taken down by the feds not for their alleged original misconduct but for lying about it.
Leaving aside whether making a false statement should be a crime, it should at least be pursued evenly. Instead, there are different reactions in the court of public opinion and the actual court for McCabe vs. Flynn. (McCabe’s case has been referred for criminal prosecution, so we’ll see what happens.)
Comey himself is quite serious about the value of truthtelling, as he has indicated on his book tour innumerable times, but he’s more serious about it for some than others.
On Martha Stewart, he writes in the book:
The Stewart experience reminded me that the justice system is an honor system. We really can’t always tell when people are lying or hiding documents, so when we are able to prove it, we simply must do so as a message to everyone.
There was once a time when most people worried about going to hell if they violated an oath taken in the name of God. That divine deterrence has slipped away from our modern cultures. In its place, people must fear going to jail. They must fear their lives being turned upside down. They must fear their pictures splashed on newspapers and websites. People must fear having their name forever associated with a criminal act if we are to have a nation with a rule of law. Martha Stewart lied, blatantly, in the justice system. To protect the institution of justice, and reinforce a culture of truth-telling, she had to be prosecuted. I am very confident that should the circumstance arise, Martha Stewart would not lie to federal investigators again.
But on Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, he struck a different tone in testimony before Congress, “Having done many investigations myself, there’s always conflicting recollections of facts, some of which are central [to the investigation], some of which are peripheral.”
And on Andrew McCabe, he tweeted: “Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.”
Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.
— James Comey (@Comey) January 30, 2018
He also said of McCabe, “Good people lie.”
7. Lots of Worse People Have Been Pardoned
I mean, come on. Mark Rich. Oscar Lopez Rivera. Joe Arpaio. Chelsea Manning’s clemency.
Give us Martha.
And, if they want to make a federal case out of something, maybe focus on the pie plate. Now, that is a crime worth sending a message about.