U.S. President Donald Trump has commuted the more than three-year prison sentence of his former aide and friend Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering during the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
In a statement, the White House said Stone was 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.
“These charges were the product of recklessness borne of frustration and malice,” the White House said.
The White House alleged an attempt to “manufacture the false impression of criminality” once investigators did not find evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia.
Trump’s executive action is one step short of a presidential pardon, which would have absolved Stone of guilt.
Instead, the action eliminates Stone’s 40-month sentence, but he is still considered a convicted criminal.
“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly,” the White House said in a statement that mirrored Trump’s twitter rhetoric. “Roger Stone is now a free man!”
The decision came just hours after a federal appeals court rejected Stone’s attempt to delay the start of his prison term, claiming coronavirus-related health concerns.
He was sentenced in February this year and was due to report to prison to start his sentence on Tuesday.
A self-described “dirty trickster,” 67-year-old Stone is an eccentric, and long-time Republican political operative going back to the 1970s.
Stone, who worked on the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, was found guilty on seven charges last year.
He was accused of lying to congressional investigators about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, which had obtained emails from Hillary Clinton’s team – allegedly hacked by Russian operatives – that were then leaked and used to discredit the Democratic candidate for president and bolster Trump’s campaign.
Democrat Adam Schiff, who led the investigation into Russian collusion in the U.S. House of Representatives, said the decision is “among the most offensive” of Trump’s actions.
Meanwhile, Stone is also seeking to overturn his conviction through a still pending appeal.
“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,” Schiff said.
“Donald Trump, (Attorney General) Bill Barr, and all those who enable them pose the gravest of threats to the rule of law.”
Trump has previously used his relatively unchecked presidential power to issue commutations and pardons to political supporters and acquaintances, including a former New York City police commissioner and financier Michael Milken.
Stone’s conviction and sentencing sparked uproar amid accusations of interference from Trump after Attorney General Bill Barr changed the federal government’s sentencing recommendation to “far less” than the initial request.
The four prosecutors working the case subsequently resigned, in an apparent protest. (dpa/NAN)