Donald Trump commutes prison sentence of long-time adviser Roger Stone
US President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence for long-time friend and adviser Roger Stone, who was jailed for lying to Congress during the Russia probe, the White House says.
- Roger Stone had been due to report to prison next week for lying to Congress
- A commutation does not erase a criminal conviction, but it does save him from serving prison time
- Democrats have accused Donald Trump of undermining rule of law by publicly complaining about cases against his associates
“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly,” the White House said in a statement.
“He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man.”
Stone, 67, was scheduled to report by Tuesday to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, to begin serving a sentence of three years and four months for lying under oath to US politicians investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Following the commutation of his sentence, Stone spoke to reporters outside his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while wearing a mask with the words “Free Roger Stone”.
“This is a horrific, horrific nightmare when you realise that this investigation never had any legitimate or lawful beginning. It was a witch hunt,” he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Stone said he had to change rooms because there were “too many people opening bottles of Champagne here”.
Relationship with the US President goes back decades
The veteran Republican political operative’s friendship with Mr Trump dates back decades.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Stone a “victim of the Russia hoax” she said was perpetrated by “the left and its allies in the media”.
“Not only was Mr Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursuing a case that never should have existed, and arrested in an operation that never should have been approved, but there were also serious questions about the jury in the case,” she said in a statement.
Unlike a pardon, a commutation does not erase a criminal conviction, but it does protect Stone from serving prison time.
Democrats were angered by Mr Trump’s decision, with House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff calling it “offensive to the rule of law and principles of justice”.
“With this commutation, [Mr] Trump makes clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else,” he said.
“Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and all those who enable them pose the gravest of threats to the rule of law.”
Donald Trump had flagged action in recent days
Stone had been open about his desire for a pardon or commutation, appealing for the president’s help in a series of Instagram posts in which he maintained that his life could be in jeopardy if imprisoned during the coronavirus pandemic.
He had recently sought to postpone his surrender date by months after getting a brief extension from the judge.
Mr Trump had repeatedly publicly inserted himself into Stone’s case, including just before Stone’s sentencing, when he suggested in a tweet that Stone was being subjected to a different standard than several prominent Democrats.
He said the conviction “should be thrown out” and called the Justice Department’s initial sentencing recommendation “horrible and very unfair”.
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Mr Trump appeared to flag his decision earlier in the day, telling reporters he was “looking at” pardoning Stone.
Stone told The Associated Press that Mr Trump had called him earlier on Friday (local time) to inform him of the commutation.
Late on Friday (local time), the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia denied Stone’s request for a delay in reporting to prison.
But then the White House made its announcement public.
Mr Trump’s decision to commute Mr Stone’s sentence marks his most assertive intervention to protect an associate in a criminal case and the latest use of executive clemency to benefit an ally.
Congressional Democrats and other critics have accused Mr Trump of undermining the rule of law by publicly complaining about criminal cases against associates including Mr Stone, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.