United States President Donald Trump late on Friday announced that he is commuting a jail sentence imposed on Roger Stone, just days before the longtime political operative was due to report to federal prison.
“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!”
Trump’s announcement came just minutes after an appeals court in Washington, DC denied Stone’s request for a prison sentence delay.
Stone told The Associated Press news agency that Trump had called him earlier on 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.
Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison in February after being convicted of charges that included lying to a congressional panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.
A jury of nine women and three men convicted Stone, 67, on November 15, 2019, on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The charges stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation which detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Stone was one of several Trump associates charged in Mueller’s inquiry.
Just had a long talk with #RogerStone. He says he doesn’t want a pardon (which implies guilt) but a commutation, and says he thinks #Trump will give it to him. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”
— howardfineman (@howardfineman) July 10, 2020
Prosecutors said Stone lied to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, the website that released damaging emails about Trump’s Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton that US intelligence officials have concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.
Attorney General William Barr intervened, and the Justice Department withdrew the sentencing recommendation, prompting the four prosecutors to resign from the case. Congressional Democrats accused Trump and Barr of politicising the criminal justice system and threatening the rule of law.
Trump attacked the prosecutors, jurors and judge in Stone’s case following the verdict. After prosecutors recommended that the judge sentence Stone to serve seven to nine years in prison, Trump blasted them as “corrupt” and railed against this “miscarriage of justice”.
Two months in jail for a Swamp Creature, yet 9 years recommended for Roger Stone (who was not even working for the Trump Campaign). Gee, that sounds very fair! Rogue prosecutors maybe? The Swamp! @foxandfriends @TuckerCarlson
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Career prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who withdrew from the case following Barr’s interference, testified to the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives last month that his office received “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice” to ease its sentencing recommendation.
Zelinsky said that Tim Shea, the acting US attorney at the time – who was appointed by Barr, ultimately caved to the pressure because he was “afraid of the President”.
Stone, who has also labelled himself an “agent provocateur” and famously has the face of former President Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, was arrested in January 2019 in a pre-dawn FBI raid on his Florida home.
Al Jazeera and news agencies