Washington: President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime political confidant Roger Stone on Friday, just days before he was set to report to prison.
Democrats denounced the move as just another in a series of unprecedented interventions by the president in the nation”s justice system.
Stone had been sentenced in February to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. He was set to report to prison by Tuesday.
Stone told The Associated Press that Trump had called him earlier Friday to inform him of the commutation.
Stone was celebrating in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with conservative friends and said he had to change rooms because there were “too many people opening bottles of Champagne here.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Stone a “victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media.”
“Not only was Mr. Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing 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.
A commutation does not erase Stone”s felony convictions in the same way a pardon would, but it would protect him from serving prison time as a result.
Democrats were angered by Trump”s decision, with House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff calling it “offensive to the rule of law and principles of justice,” and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez asking, “Is there any power Trump won”t abuse?”
The action, which Trump had foreshadowed in recent days, reflects his lingering rage over the Russia investigation and is a testament to his conviction that he and his associates were mistreated by agents and prosecutors.
His administration has been eager to rewrite the narrative of special counsel Robert Mueller”s Russia investigation, with Trump”s own Justice Department moving in May to dismiss the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Stone told the AP that the president did not mention the statuses of Flynn or his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also ensnared in the Russia probe.
Stone, for his part, 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 a pandemic.
He had recently sought to postpone his surrender date by months after getting a brief extension from the judge.
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 railed that the conviction “should be thrown out” and called the Justice Department”s initial sentencing recommendation “horrible and very unfair.” “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” he wrote.
Schiff said the commutation showed the corruption of the Trump administration.
“With this commutation, 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.”
Stone, a larger-than-life political character who embraced his reputation as a dirty trickster, was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to have been convicted of charges brought as part of Mueller”s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A longtime Trump friend and informal adviser, Stone had boasted during the campaign that he was in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks” plans to release more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
But Stone denied any wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated.
He did not take the stand during his trial, did not speak at his sentencing, and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.
Trump also targeted those involved in the case. He retweeted a comment by Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano that the jury appeared to have been biased against Trump, and called out Judge Amy Berman Jackson by name, saying “almost any judge in the country” would throw out the conviction.
The tweets continued even after Trump earned a public rebuke from his own attorney general, William Barr, who said the president”s comments were “making it impossible” for him to do his job. Barr was so incensed that he told people he was considering resigning over the matter.
Prosecutors had originally recommended Stone serve seven to nine years in federal prison. But, in a highly unusual move, Barr reversed that decision after a Trump tweet and recommended a more lenient punishment, prompting a mini-revolt inside the Justice Department, with the entire prosecution team resigning from the case.