11 July 2020 06:42
It had become a case of when, not if, Donald Trump would save his old pal Roger Stone from prison. When Stone failed in a court bid to delay the start of his sentence next week because of a coronavirus outbreak at the jail, the president stepped in. Stone was there for Trump at the birth of his presidential ambitions and has remained a loyal defender ever since. That loyalty has come in handy at a critical moment. Minutes after the White House made the announcement, Stone was asked what he would do now.
"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to get the president re-elected," he said. Advertisement You scratch my back... For the president's opponents this is just another example of a Commander-in-Chief yanking the legal levers for the benefit of friends and allies at the expense of the rule of law and democracy. Trump has never given any indication he cares about criticism like that. But there is genuine unease in the Department of Justice at the president commuting the sentence of a man convicted of a series of offences that could have got him almost a decade in prison.
The move came just days before Stone was due to report to prison to serve 40 months for crimes related to the Russia investigation. The White House confirmed the commuting of the sentence in a statement, saying Stone was a victim of the Russia "hoax". Though short of a full pardon, the commutation is sure to alarm critics who have long been critical of the president's repeated interventions in the nation's justice system. He was sentenced as part of the probe into Russian interference (Al Drago/AP) More Stone had been sentenced in February 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. A commutation would 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. The action, which Mr 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. This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020 His administration has been eager to rewrite the narrative of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, with Mr Trump's own Justice Department moving to dismiss the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn in May. 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. Mr 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 said 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. Mr Trump also offered clemency to Conrad Black (PA More Story continues Donald Trump has granted clemency to Roger Stone, who was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating witnesses during an investigation into election interference, according to the White House. The longtime Republican operative was convicted in November on seven counts alleging that he lied to lawmakers about communicating with WikiLeaks, tampered with witnesses and obstructed a House intelligence committee investigation into the president's 2016 campaign. In a lengthy White House statement, the press secretary's office claimed Stone is a "victim of the Russia hoax" and that evidence of collusion was only a "fantasy of partisans unable to accept the result of the 2016 election". Download the new Independent Premium app Sharing the full story, not just the headlines His prosecution was the result of "recklessness borne of frustration and malice", the statement said. On Friday, the US Court of Appeals denied Stone's request to delay his sentencing, ruling that Stone is "not legally eligible for further postponement of his reporting date". The president's order also defies his own Justice Department's support for Stone's sentencing, writing that his prison term is "a reasonable exercise of that court's discretion based on the totality of the factual and legal circumstances". He was due to report to prison on 14 July. But the president publicly teased for months that he was considering intervening in his friend's case. On Friday, he said he was "looking at" a pardon for his former adviser. But Stone had argued that he would rather be commuted, which would not expunge his convictions, because he believed he had not committed any crime to have received a pardon for, according to reports. "I think Roger Stone was very unfairly treated, as were many people," the president said. "And, in the meantime [former FBI Director James] Comey and all these guys are walking around, including Joe [Biden] and [Barack] Obama." The president has amplified his unproven "Obamagate" conspiracy alleging that his predecessor spied on his campaign in 2016 while dismissing federal investigations that led to several indictments and prison sentences for his former campaign aides. Prosecutors argued that Stone had threatened a witness and lied under oath to protect the president, and a jury agreed. Mr Trump called Stone's initial nine-year sentencing recommendation from the Department of Justice a "a horrible and very unfair situation". "The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them," he said. "Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!" Mr Trump then spoke to attorney general William Barr, who signalled to the DOJ that it would seek a lower sentence, which he was ultimately granted.