President Donald Trump on Friday commuted the sentence of his longtime confidant Roger Stone, who was convicted in November on seven charges including lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
The White House press secretary’s office released a lengthy statement defending Trump’s decision.
“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,” it read. “There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia. Such collusion was never anything other than a fantasy of partisans unable to accept the result of the 2016 election.”
With his clemency granted, Stone is now seeking a new trial.
“He maintains his innocence and has stated that he expects to be fully exonerated by the justice system,” the White House statement said. “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.”
Stone, a GOP operative and an adviser to Trump during the presidential campaign, was sentenced to 40 months earlier this year despite ongoing efforts by the president and Attorney General William Barr to stymie the court. He was scheduled to report to a federal prison in Georgia in a matter of days. In early February, the Department of Justice walked back federal prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation immediately following a Trump tirade about the case on Twitter.
Shortly thereafter, the entire prosecution team resigned. One former member, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, later testified before Congress that the Stone case had been inappropriately influenced by politics. Stone, Zelinsky said, had been “treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President.”
Meanwhile, Trump and conservative media ― particularly Fox News ― ramped up their defense of Stone, leading pundits to wonder whether a pardon or commutation of his sentence were on the horizon. A commutation is a reduction, either totally or partially, of a sentence someone is currently serving but does not eliminate a federal conviction. A pardon is typically granted after a person has served their sentence and may suggest innocence.
On the eve of Stone’s sentencing, Trump tweeted a Fox News video in which host Tucker Carlson called the case “a shocking insult to the American tradition of equal justice.”
During his case, Stone had loudly maintained his innocence and was issued a gag order last year after he posted a threatening image on Instagram targeting the federal judge assigned to his case.
According to charging documents, Stone compromised a witness and lied to investigators in a probe of his communications with WikiLeaks, which leaked documents from the hack of Democratic National Committee servers in 2016.
But ever since Mueller concluded his probe into Russian influence in the 2016 election, Trump has been faced with the option of pardoning or commuting the sentences of a handful of former aides and advisers who were charged in the investigation.
Stone’s case was rife with drama, as the eccentric regularly used social media to raise money for himself, deny allegations and attack his opponents.
In February 2019, he was admonished for posting a picture on Instagram depicting the federal judge on his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with what appeared to be crosshairs next to her head.
The judge took it as a threat and added Stone to an existing gag order on the case, barring him from talking about it at all. He responded by reminding the judge that he counted prominent members of the extremist Proud Boys street gang among his volunteer staff, and offered that one of them could have posted the image.
He continued to tiptoe around the order, however, regularly posting his running hashtag #RogerStoneDidNothingWrong to Instagram, alongside calls to donate to his legal defense fund and claims that he was being targeted by the “fake news” media.