President Trump has commuted the prison sentence of longtime ally and political adviser Roger Stone, who'd been poised to start a long-delayed 40-month prison stint next week over charges connected to the infamous probe of Russian tinkering in the 2016 presidential election, multiple news outlets, including CNBC and The New York Times, reported Friday night.
Stone, 67, was convicted as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into a purported conspiracy by officials in President Donald Trump’s campaign and Kremlin agents to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. Mueller’s investigation found no evidence of any conspiracy.
Nonetheless, prosecutors believed Stone was trying to undermine the Russia inquiry to shield Trump. In January 2019, Special Counsel Mueller indicted Stone on one count of obstruction, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering. Stone denied the charges, pleading not guilty.
On Nov. 15, a jury convicted Stone in federal court on all counts, including obstructing the congressional investigation into Russian election tampering.
Stone, 67, drew a 40-month sentence in February. But the start of the sentence was delayed until July 14 due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.
In recent months, Stone has argued for a new trial. Serious questions were raised about the jury forewoman having a strong political bias against Trump. The veteran political operative made the case that the forewoman's animus toward the president meant she couldn't be impartial in deciding Stone's guilt or innocence at trial.
District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the bias argument in April.
"There is zero evidence of 'explicit bias' against Stone, and defendant’s attempts to gain a new trial based on implied or inferred bias fail," Jackson said in an 81-page decision.
One more legal maneuver, a Hail Mary bid to delay his prison term over fears of contracting tyhe coronavirus behind bars, was rejected by a federal appeals court on Friday.
Against that backdrop, Stone came to pin his hopes on intervention by the president.
“I believe the president will do the right thing,” Stone told Newsmax TV on July 2, with talk of a pardon swirling. At the time, he said he'd he'd had no communication with Trump about sentencing relief but remained optimistic. “I pray for it. I haven’t been promised anything, but Donald Trump is a man of enormous justice, believes in fairness, and he has put it out again, and again, and again that I was not treated fairly in the process.”
He reiterated his belief in Trump in a quote provided to Newsmax TV's "Greg Kelly Reports" on Friday afternoon, as talk of a potential pardon was fueling media speculation that the president's action was imminent.
"I believe the president will do the right thing and I am certainly encouraged by the reports that he may do so tonight," Stone said.
In the end, clemency came in the form of a commutation. This is somewhat different than a pardon. A presidential pardon fully absolves an individual of the crime he or she is found to have committed. A commutation lessens the punishment or eliminates jail time, but leaves the conviction standing.
Stone has previously insisted he was prosecuted, and persecuted, for refusing to lie about Trump in the Russia probe, and was persecuted for it.
On Friday, Trump appeared to signal he was giving serious consideration to a pardon for his former campaign adviser.
Earlier in the day, Trump had sent a signal about his intentions, saying he was looking at issuing a pardon to his former campaign adviser.
"I'll be looking at it," Trump told reporters as he left the White House, according to the pool report. "I think Roger Stone was very unfairly treated, as were many people, and in the meantime Comey and all these guys are walking around, including Biden and Obama, because we caught them spying on my campaign. Who would have believed that one?"
President Trump has offered clemency before during his administration.
The commutation was the latest example of Trump using his unlimited clemency power to pardon powerful men he believes have been mistreated by the justice system.
According to The Associated Press, in February he went on what it called a clemency "spree," commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and pardoning former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, financier Michael Milken and several others.
Trump has also offered clemency to other political allies, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was awaiting sentencing at the time, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who had been convicted of campaign finance violations, and Conrad Black, a newspaper publisher convicted of fraud who had written a flattering book about the president.
Trump has been especially vocal about his decision to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and who came to Trump’s attention after reality star Kim Kardashian West took up her cause. Her story was featured in a Trump campaign Super Bowl ad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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