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Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence

Washington — President Trump is commuting the prison sentence of Republican political operative Roger Stone via an executive grant of clemency, the White House said in a statement. Mr. Trump extended reprieve to his longtime informal adviser and ally days before he was expected to report to prison.

The statement from the White House called Stone a "victim of the Russia Hoax" and said there was "never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia." Stone was convicted in November of lying to Congress about his efforts to collaborate with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and threatening a witness to cover up his actions.

"As it became clear that these witch hunts would never bear fruit, the Special Counsel's Office resorted to process-based charges leveled at high-profile people in an attempt to manufacture the false impression of criminality lurking below the surface," the statement said. 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted Friday night that the committee would be conducting an investigation. "A jury found Roger Stone guilty," Nadler wrote. "By commuting his sentence, President Trump has infected our judicial system with partisanship and cronyism and attacked the rule of law."

Stone's attorney, Grant Smith, said Stone and his wife are "incredibly honored that President Trump used his awesome and unique power under the Constitution of the United States for this act of mercy." Mr. Trump, returning to the White House on Friday after spending the day in Florida, did not take questions from reporters about Stone. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called Trump's decision "among the most offensive to the rule of law and principles of justice."

"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 added. "Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and all those who enable them pose the gravest of threats to the rule of law."

In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried the "staggering corruption" of commuting Stone's sentence.

"Congress will take action to prevent this type of brazen wrongdoing.  Legislation is needed to ensure that no President can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that President from criminal prosecution," Pelosi said

Republican Senator Mitt Romney also criticized Stone's commutation, calling it "unprecedented, historic corruption" on Twitter.

The move from Mr. Trump caps months of speculation as to Stone's future after he was convicted of seven federal charges in November. Stone was sentenced to 40 months behind bars in February and was ordered to surrender to a federal prison in Georgia on July 14. On Friday night, a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., denied Stone's emergency motion to further delay his surrender date to prison.
 
The president has been vocal in his support for Stone, hinting numerous times he might grant clemency to his close confidante and lambasting his prosecution. Early last month, Mr. Trump tweeted that Stone was the "victim of a corrupt and illegal witch hunt" and wrote "he can sleep well at night." Further fueling speculation, the president retweeted a user who said that "it's time to #PardonRogerStone."
 
Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning that he was "looking at" commuting Stone's sentence.
 
"I think Roger Stone was very unfairly treated," Mr. Trump said.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr declined to say whether he would recommend Stone's sentence be commuted.

"I think it's the president's prerogative, it's a unique power that the president has and certainly something that is committed to his judgment," Barr said. "But as I say, I felt it was an appropriate prosecution. I thought the sentence was fair."
 
In an interview with Fox News Thursday, Stone said he was "praying" for clemency from Mr. Trump. Either a pardon or commutation "would have an effect of saving my life," Stone said, expressing concern about contracting COVID-19 in prison. 

The Justice Department describes a pardon as "an expression of the President's forgiveness." It also usually recognizes an individual's "acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence." The department says that a pardon "does not signify innocence," though it removes restrictions imposed on the individual as a result of conviction.  

A commutation results in a partially reduced or eliminated sentence but doesn't affect the fact that an individual was convicted. Stone told Fox News on Thursday that "if I should be fortunate enough to get a commutation, I would continue to fight for vindication."

The case against Stone, 67, stemmed from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Federal prosecutors accused the political operative of collaborating with WikiLeaks to release emails stolen from the Democratic Party in order to harm Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, and subsequently lying about the efforts. He also faced one count of tampering with a witness, radio personality Randy Credico, by urging him not to cooperate in the investigation into Russian interference mounted by the House Intelligence Committee.

A federal jury found Stone guilty of all seven charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.

Just before Stone was to be sentenced in February, all four federal prosecutors involved in the case abruptly withdrew after senior officials at the Justice Department overruled their initial recommendation that Stone receive seven to nine years in prison. The move raised questions as to whether the department bowed to political pressure from the White House, given Mr. Trump's public support for Stone and criticism of the initial sentencing recommendation.

One of the prosecutors who resigned from Stone's case, Aaron Zelinsky, told the House Judiciary Committee last month that the Justice Department intervened to recommend a lighter sentence for Stone because of his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Zelinsky told lawmakers the move by the department was "unprecedented" and that Stone was "treated differently because of politics." He said in written testimony before his appearance that Timothy Shea, then the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the U.S. attorney's sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations." 

Jackson then sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison.

Before the longtime Republican operative was set to begin his sentence June 30, he asked the court to delay the date he was due to surrender to September 3 because of the threat of the coronavirus, which has spread through the U.S. prison population.

Jackson granted Stone a two-week postponement, ordering him to report July 14.
 
Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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