President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of his longtime ally Roger Stone, the White House said in a statement Friday.
Trump’s long-suspected intervention in the case of his former campaign official came after more than a year of the president railing against Stone’s prosecution as a miscarriage of justice and a “witch hunt.”
On Friday morning, Trump said he was “looking at” a pardon for Stone, who was “very unfairly treated.”
Clemency was among the only options left for Stone to avoid entering prison next week. A panel of federal appeals judges on Friday evening denied a request from Stone’s lawyers to delay the 67-year-old’s prison surrender date until early September.
The attorneys had argued Stone would be at risk of contracting the coronavirus if he reported to a federal prison camp in Georgia on Tuesday, as was scheduled, to begin his sentence for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction.
On Friday, Stone spoke with NBC News analyst Howard Fineman and told him that he did not want a pardon, as that would imply guilt, but instead a commutation of his sentence, which he believed Trump would grant.
Stone said of Trump, “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t,” according to a tweet by Fineman.
The charges in the case related to Stone’s efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get information from document disclosure group WikiLeaks about emails stolen by Russian agents from John Podesta, head of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, as well as from the Democratic National Committee.
He also was convicted of pressuring his former friend, comedian Randy Credico, to back up his lies.
At Stone’s trial, Rick Gates, a former top Trump campaign official, testified that he had been with Trump in July 2016 while the then-presidential candidate had a phone call with Stone.
Gates testified that after the call ended, Trump indicated that “more information would be coming” from Wikileaks.
Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in November 2018 that he had no recollection of speaking to Stone about WikiLeaks.
But Trump also told Mueller, who was investigating Russian interference in the election, that “I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”
Trump’s prior comments on Stone’s case fueled speculation that he was considering pardoning Stone or commuting his sentence.
The president left open the possibility of a pardon when asked about it in February, ahead of Stone’s sentencing.
That same month, Trump commented on a tweet from a supporter who had written, “Raise your hand if you believe it’s time for a FULL PARDON for Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.”
The president responded in a tweet of his own, saying: “Prosecutorial Misconduct?”
More recently, in June, Trump tweeted that Stone “was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history. He can sleep well at night!”
Stone’s legal battle had been marked by the ostentatious operative’s head-turning theatrics from nearly the moment of his arrest in January 2019, when he was cuffed in a dramatic predawn raid at his Florida home. A CNN film crew on the scene captured footage of the arrest – and sparked the first of many moments of partisan rancor the case would inspire.
After an initial appearance before a judge, Stone declared his innocence to the sea of reporters gathered outside the Ft. Lauderdale courthouse and vowed not to “bear false witness” against Trump.
The president had previously applauded his ally’s “guts” in taking a hard-line stance against then-special counsel Robert Mueller, whose grand jury would indict Stone on seven criminal counts.
Stone’s social media behavior became a regular source of controversy during his prosecution.
Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in Washington, D.C., district court who would later sentence Stone to more than three years locked up, hauled him into court to explain himself after he posted a photo on Instagram showing the judge next to a rife scope’s crosshair.
The self-described “dirty trickster” Stone said he was sorry for his “stupidity,” but Jackson suggested the apology rang hollow and imposed a full gag order on him. She later banned him from posting on social media entirely after ruling that he violated that gag order.
Stone had fought to stay out of prison after a jury convicted him last fall of all seven counts.
He sought to have his conviction set aside by claiming that the jury forewoman lied on a questionnaire she had filled out during jury selection. Jackson denied that request for a retrial in April.