President Donald Trump on Friday commuted the prison sentence of former campaign aide Roger Stone, sparing his longtime adviser from having to report to prison next week.
“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!”
A source told NBC News Trump called Stone on Friday night to tell him the news.
The announcement came shortly after a federal appeals court denied Stone's emergency motion to delay his July 14th surrender date.
Stone lawyer Robert Buschel told NBC News "We are grateful and relieved. And glad this nightmare is over."
Another of Stone's attorneys, Grant Smith, said his client is "incredibly honored that President Trump used his awesome and unique power under the Constitution of the United States for this act of mercy.”
Asked earlier on Friday if he planned on intervening in Stone's case, Trump said, "I’ll be looking at it. I think Roger Stone was very unfairly treated as were many people."
In the White House statement, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said "Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency."
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She also blasted the "out-of-control Mueller prosecutors" who brought the case, the FBI agents who arrested Stone, and, as Trump himself has done, even criticized the jury that convicted Stone in "the case that never should have existed."
But, she added, Trump "does not wish to interfere" with Stone's efforts to get a new trial. "At this time, however, and particularly in light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the president has determined to commute his sentence," she said.
Stone told SiriusXM Thursday he was hoping for a commutation so he could continue fighting the charges in court. “I would still have to battle it out on appeal, which frankly I want to do, because I want an opportunity to clear my name,” he said.
Some of Trump's advisers urged him not to intervene in the case at all for fear it could hamper his re-election bid, NBC News reported earlier Friday.
Democrat leaders were quick to slam the move as a disregard for the rule of law.
“What we’re seeing today is an appalling overture ... from the president saying, ‘If you lie for me, if you cover up for me, I will reward you. On the other hand, if you are a rat and you cooperate then like a Mafia boss, I will come after you," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on Friday night.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, said the commutation was another example of Trump acting as though he is above the law. "Still true," Biden tweeted about a comment from 2019 in which he named Stone and others as Trump associates "who flout our laws."
"We shouldn’t be surprised that he thinks he is above the law. We deserve better as a country," Biden said in the original tweet.
Stone was sentenced in February to serve 40 months in prison for lying to Congress during the investigation of Russian election meddling. After the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, the Bureau of Prisons gave him an extension on reporting to prison. He had been in home confinement in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
He said in the spring that any period in a federal prison would amount to a death sentence, given the coronavirus pandemic and his health problems: "I'm 67 years old. I had very, very severe asthma as a child. If you look at the profile of those who are most at risk, I think I fit that," he said.
Last month, he asked Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for permission to delay his prison reporting date yet again to late September, in view of COVID-19 infections in prisons. She denied the request and ordered him to report to a federal prison in Jessup, Georgia, by July 14. "Mr. Stone is entitled to no more and no less consideration than any other similarly situated convicted felon," she said.
Stone appealed the ruling in attempt to buy more time.
Trump had said in remarks on the day of Stone's Feb. 20th sentencing that he had no immediate plans to intervene in his case. "I'm not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out. I think that's the best thing to do. Because I'd love to see Roger exonerated, and I'd love to see it happen because I personally think he was treated very unfairly," he said then.
But as Stone's surrender date approached, Trump's public stance changed. After a right-wing activist tweeted that Stone would serve more time behind bars than "99% of these rioters destroying America," Trump responded, "No. Roger was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt." "He can sleep well at night!" he said in the June 4 tweet.
At Stone's sentencing, Judge Jackson pushed back against claims from Trump and his supporters that his prosecution was biased.
"There was nothing unfair, phony or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution," she said, adding that Stone "was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president."
Stone's case had become a political hot potato at the Department of Justice. The department abruptly reduced its recommended prison sentence for Stone following a Trump tweet that called the original recommendation of 7-9 years "disgraceful!"
The revised request for a softer sentence led the four prosecutors who handled Stone's case to resign from it, with one resigning from the DOJ altogether.
One of those prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, told Congress in June that he resigned from the case because the Justice Department inappropriately pushed for a more lenient sentence. "I have never seen political influence play a role in prosecutorial decision making, with one exception: United States v Roger Stone," he said.
"What I heard— repeatedly— was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president," Zelinsky said.
Stone is a longtime Trump friend and adviser and had advocated for years for him to run for president.
Trump tried to distance himself from Stone's work after the trial, saying "he didn't work for my campaign," despite Trump's campaign saying in 2015 that it had fired Stone because he "wanted to use the campaign for his own personal publicity." Stone maintained he quit.
Stone's criminal trial also showed the veteran political strategist stayed in contact with his candidate.
Stone was accused of lying to Congress about his efforts to connect with WikiLeaks in hopes of digging up dirt on Trump's 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. The lead prosecutor in the case said Stone had lied because the "truth looked bad for Donald Trump."
Stone had claimed he had no records "of any kind" of attempts to reach out to WikiLeaks, but evidence produced at his trial in Washington, D.C. federal court showed he traded hundreds of texts and emails with two people he was using as intermediaries to reach out to the organization.
Stone also maintained he hadn't discussed his efforts with the Trump campaign — claims refuted by his call records and testimony from former campaign officials Steve Bannon and Rick Gates. The call records also showed Stone had called Trump hours after the DNC in June 2016 announced that Russians had hacked its systems.
Trump told Mueller in written answers to question that he did not recall the specifics of any communications with Stone in the six months preceding the 2016 election.
Stone was also charged with pressuring one of his intermediaries, radio host Randy Credico, to lie to investigators about Stone's requests that he reach out to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
Stone was convicted of all seven counts against him.