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EDITORIAL: Punish the good; reward the guilty

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Roger Stone arrives for his sentencing at federal court in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Roger Stone, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, faces sentencing Thursday on his convictions for witness tampering and lying to Congress. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Not that another example was needed, but the mendacity, cronyism and utter lack of ethical compass that defines President Donald Trump’s time in the White House was demonstrated anew — and especially vividly — last week in the fates of two men.

One served his country honorably for more than two decades. The other is a self-proclaimed political dirty trickster.

One has a Purple Heart pinned to his chest. The other has a tattoo of President Richard Nixon inked on his back.

One is a veteran of the Iraq War. The other is a convicted felon.

One, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, resigned from the Army on Wednesday after a campaign of bullying and threats inspired, if not led, by Trump. The other, longtime Trump crony Roger Stone, saw the president commute his multi-year prison sentence on Friday.

Vindman, the former National Security Council director for European Affairs, earned the president’s wrath by being honest. He had the misfortune of having been among those listening in to the president’s notorious July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukraine’s president — the one in which Trump clearly solicited political help in exchange for U.S. aid.

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2019, file photo National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Vindman, who played a central role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment case, announced his retirement from the army July 7, 2020, in a scathing statement that accused the president of running a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation.”(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

When called on to testify before Congress during subsequent impeachment hearings, Vindman did what he’s done all his life: answered the call to serve his country.

But Trump isn’t much concerned about country (as his mishandling of the still-out-of-control coronavirus pandemic proves daily); he’s concerned about Trump. So Vindman, like others who testified during the impeachment hearings, became the target of relentless retribution: fired from the NSC (as was, for good measure, his twin brother), dead-ended elsewhere in the Army and facing presidential opposition to a scheduled promotion.

No such political headwinds have buffeted Stone, who was convicted earlier this year of obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, and witness tampering in the case brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

To the surprise of no one, the president who repeatedly proclaims “LAW & ORDER” on Twitter, ignored the rule of law and spared his longtime ally jail time — a particularly egregious misuse of power, as Stone was accused of lying to protect the president himself.

That’s the administration in a nutshell: An honorable serviceman does what’s right and suffers; a convicted felon covers up for corruption and thrives. Punish good; reward guilt. Trump over country.

This inversion of ethical behavior would not be possible, of course, without the compliance of a third player: the Republican majority in the Senate. The same men and women who refused to hear any testimony before acquitting the impeached president have sat on their hands for three and a half years while Trump has made a mockery of his office, the separation of powers and the Constitution.

He has abused clemency powers before. He has openly called for political help from foreign governments. He funnels tens of millions to his own properties. He has burned bridges with traditional allies and coddled dictators.

And he has been checked by his party not at all.

Give Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey a little credit for calling out Trump’s actions regarding Stone — but only a little. RepublicanToomey issued a statement calling the move “a mistake,” adding, “any objections to Mr. Stone’s conviction and trial should be resolved through the appeals process.”

While Toomey’s rebuke is welcome — and was predictably criticized by the ever-sensitive president — it called for no real action. Senatorial censure? Nope. Support for a House measure to ban pardons and commutations in cases directly related to a president? Hardly.

A mild statement of disapproval — “I understand the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation,” Toomey hedged — is hardly equal to the transgression.

Thus it has been since Trump stepped foot in the White House. Honest behavior is penalized. Presidential loyalty is rewarded. Congressional apathy is guaranteed.