President Donald Trump on Friday fully commuted the criminal sentence of his longtime ally Roger Stone, just four days before the Republican operative was due to begin a 40-month prison term.
The White House, in announcing the executive clemency grant to Stone, called the 67-year-old Republican operative “a victim of the Russia hoax,” and someone who “would be put at serious medical risk” from the coronavirus if he was imprisoned.
“In light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the President has determined to commute his sentence,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!” she said. Trump phoned Stone to deliver the news, NBC News reported.
Stone said he was elated but not surprised. “The president has saved my life,” Stone said, according to NBC News. “And he’s given me the opportunity to fight for vindication.”
“Well I was, I was elated,” he said Friday night outside his Florida home, according to NBC. “Obviously I was somewhat relieved, but I was not surprised.”
Although Stone is no longer required to serve any time in prison, he has said that he will continue to seek to overturn his conviction for lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Trump’s long-suspected intervention in the case of his former campaign official came after more than a year of the president railing against Stone’s prosecution as a miscarriage of justice and a “witch hunt.”
On Friday morning, Trump said he was “looking at” a pardon for Stone, who was “very unfairly treated.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., quickly condemned the commutation, saying Trump has made it “clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else.”
About an hour before Trump’s commutation of his sentence was announced, a panel of federal appeals judges denied a request from Stone to delay his prison surrender date until early September.
The attorneys had argued Stone would be at risk of contracting the coronavirus if he reported to a federal prison camp in Georgia on Tuesday, as was scheduled.
“Mr. Stone is incredibly honored that President Trump used his awesome and unique power under the Constitution of the United States for this act of mercy,” Grant Smith, an attorney for Stone, told CNBC in a statement. “Mr. and Mrs. Stone appreciate all the consideration the President gave to this matter.”
Robert Buschel, another of Stone’s lawyers, told NBC News: “We are grateful and relieved. And glad this nightmare is over.”
On Friday, Stone spoke with NBC analyst Howard Fineman and told him that he did not want a pardon, as that would imply guilt, but instead a commutation of his sentence, which he believed Trump would grant.
Stone said of Trump, “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t,” according to a tweet by Fineman.
The charges in the case related to Stone’s efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get information from document disclosure group WikiLeaks about emails stolen by Russian agents from John Podesta, head of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, as well as from the Democratic National Committee.
He also was convicted of pressuring his former friend, comedian Randy Credico, to back up his lies.
The case against Stone was originally lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was cast with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as possible coordination with Russian agents by the Trump campaign.
At Stone’s trial, Rick Gates, a former top Trump campaign official, testified that he had been with Trump in July 2016 while the then-presidential candidate had a phone call with Stone.
Gates testified that after the call ended, Trump indicated that “more information would be coming” from Wikileaks.
Trump told Mueller in written answers in 2018 that he had no recollection of speaking to Stone about WikiLeaks.
But Trump also told Mueller that “I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”
The White House statement issued Friday evening took aim at Mueller’s investigation, which Trump has long criticized as a hoax.
“Mr. Stone was charged by the same prosecutors from the Mueller Investigation tasked with finding evidence of collusion with Russia,” the statement said.
“Because no such evidence exists, however, they could not charge him for any collusion-related crime. Instead, they charged him for his conduct during their investigation. The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison,” the statement said.
Trump’s prior comments on Stone’s case fueled speculation that he was considering pardoning Stone or commuting his sentence.
The president left open the possibility of a pardon when asked about it in February, ahead of Stone’s sentencing.
That same month, Trump commented on a tweet from a supporter who had written, “Raise your hand if you believe it’s time for a FULL PARDON for Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.”
The president responded in a tweet of his own, saying: “Prosecutorial Misconduct?”
More recently, in June, Trump tweeted that Stone “was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history. He can sleep well at night!”
Stone’s legal battle had been marked by the ostentatious operative’s head-turning theatrics from nearly the moment of his arrest in January 2019, when he was cuffed in a dramatic predawn raid at his Florida home. A CNN film crew on the scene captured footage of the arrest – and sparked the first of many moments of partisan rancor the case would inspire.
After an initial appearance before a judge, Stone declared his innocence to the sea of reporters gathered outside the Ft. Lauderdale courthouse and vowed not to “bear false witness” against Trump.
The president had previously applauded his ally’s “guts” in taking a hard-line stance against then-special counsel Robert Mueller, whose grand jury would indict Stone on seven criminal counts.
Stone’s social media behavior became a regular source of controversy during his prosecution.
Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in Washington, D.C., district court who would later sentence Stone to more than three years locked up, hauled him into court to explain himself after he posted a photo on Instagram showing the judge next to a rifle scope’s crosshairs.
The self-described “dirty trickster” Stone said he was sorry for his “stupidity,” but Jackson suggested the apology rang hollow and imposed a full gag order on him. She later banned him from posting on social media entirely after ruling that he violated that gag order.
Stone had fought to stay out of prison after a jury convicted him last fall of all seven counts.
He sought to have his conviction set aside by claiming that the jury forewoman lied on a questionnaire she had filled out during jury selection. Jackson denied that request for a retrial in April.