President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone on Friday, sparing him from prison after he was convicted of lying under oath to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump’s decision to commute Stone’s sentence 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.
“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!”
The veteran Republican political operative’s friendship with Trump dates back decades. Stone, 67, was scheduled to report by Tuesday to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, to begin serving a sentence of three years and four months.
Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, opted to give Stone a commutation, which does not erase a criminal conviction, rather than a full pardon.
Stone emerged from his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home wearing a mask with the words “Free Roger Stone.”
“This is a horrific, horrific nightmare when you realize that this investigation never had any legitimate or lawful beginning, it was a witch hunt,” Stone said using some of the same words Trump has hurled at prosecutors and Democrats who investigated Moscow’s role in the 2016 U.S. election.
Stone was among several Trump associates charged with crimes in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Russian interference to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy.
The White House, in its statement, criticized Mueller’s investigation and the prosecutors in Stone’s case. The White House said 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.”
Mueller’s investigation found extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russians.
Congressional Democrats and other critics have 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.”