The story of Roger Stone, and why Trump commuted his sentence
Trump commuted the prison sentence of his friend and former campaign adviser Roger Stone, with the White House saying: "Roger Stone has already suffered greatly... He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this (Russia probe) case. Roger Stone is now a free man!"
In an unsurprising move, US President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of his longtime confidant and former campaign adviser Roger Stone after he was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for lying under oath to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The announcement came just after the Washington DC Court of Appeals denied Stone's request to delay the start date of his custodial term of 40 months. He was set to report to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, on July 14, but his allies had lobbied for a pardon or a commutation, citing his risk of contracting coronavirus while in jail.
ROGER STONE'S LAST YEAR CONVICTION
Stone, 67, was convicted in November of seven charges -- including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional committee proceeding -- as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Among the things he misled Congress about were his communications with Trump campaign officials --communications that prosecutors said Stone hid out of his desire to protect Trump, reports say. Stone was the sixth Trump aide found guilty on charges linked to a Justice Department probe that alleged Russia tried to boost the Trump 2016 campaign.
Trump's decision to commute Stone's sentence just days before he was due to report to prison marked the Republican President's most assertive intervention to protect an associate in a criminal case and his latest use of executive clemency to benefit an ally. Democrats condemned Trump's action as an "assault on the rule of law".
WHAT DID THE WHITE HOUSE SAY?
"Roger 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," said the White House in a statement. "There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia."
"Mr. Stone, like every American, deserves a fair trial and every opportunity to vindicate himself before the courts. The President does not wish to interfere with his efforts to do so.
"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. 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!" the statement added.
The veteran Republican political operative's friendship with Trump dates back decades. The President, seeking re-election on November 3, opted to give Stone a commutation, which does not erase a criminal conviction, rather than a full pardon.
Grant Smith, a lawyer for Stone, said his client feels "incredibly honoured" for "this act of mercy."
Stone was among several Trump associates charged with crimes in Mueller's investigation that documented Russian interference in the 2016 election to boost Trump's candidacy. Trump has long railed against the Russia investigation, decrying the process as a "witch hunt" and excoriating the special counsel and FBI for what the President has deemed mistreatment of his allies throughout the process.
More recently, Trump tried to blame former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, his likely 2020 Democratic opponent, for what he alleges were nebulous crimes committed against his campaign. Trump accused Obama of committing “treason” in a June television interview but has not provided any supporting evidence.
Mueller's investigation, meanwhile, found extensive contacts between Trump's campaign and Russians. Congressional Democrats and other critics accused Trump of undermining the rule of law by publicly complaining about criminal cases against associates including Stone, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said: "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."
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, added: "The United States was founded on the rule of law. It seems our president has nothing but contempt for it."
Bill Russo, a spokesman for Trump's Democratic election opponent Joe Biden, accused the President of abusing his power "as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world."
GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS
A Washington jury in November 2019 convicted Stone on all seven criminal counts of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness.
Trump repeatedly lashed out on Twitter about Stone's case, accusing prosecutors of being corrupt, the juror forewoman of political bias and the judge of treating his friend unfairly.
Attorney General William Barr earlier intervened in the case to scale back the Justice Department's sentencing recommendation, leading four career prosecutors to quit the proceedings.
One of them, Aaron Zelinsky, told lawmakers on June 24 that his supervisor in the US Attorney's office in Washington was told to go easy on Stone for political reasons, Reuters reported.
Stone was convicted for lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, the website that released damaging emails about Trump's 2016 Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton that US intelligence officials have concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.
The US Constitution gives a president the "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." Trump's use of this executive clemency often has benefited allies and well-connected political figures.
He pardoned hardline former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio, former Republican White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza and convicted "junk bond king" Michael Milken. He also commuted the prison sentence of Democratic former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who had been a contestant on Trump's former reality TV show.
Stone has been a fixture in American partisan battles dating to the 1970s. Stone, a colourful figure known for his natty attire, has labelled himself an "agent provocateur" and famously has the face of former President Richard Nixon tattooed on his back.
Barr has also sought to dismiss the charges against Flynn. And Barr last month fired a Manhattan-based federal prosecutor whose office had charged Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and was pursuing an investigation that could ensnare Trump's current attorney Rudolph Giuliani.