US 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 legislators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US 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 announcement came just minutes after an appeals court in Washington, DC denied Stone’s request to postpone his surrender date.
Stone told The Associated Press news agency Trump called him on Friday evening to tell him he was off the hook.
“The president told me that he had decided, in an act of clemency, to issue a full commutation of my sentence, and he urged me to vigorously pursue my appeal and my vindication,” Stone told the agency by phone from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was celebrating with friends.
He said he had to change rooms because there were “too many people opening bottles of champagne here”.
A commutation does not erase Stone’s felony convictions in the same way a pardon would, but it would protect him from serving prison time as a result.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Stone a “victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media”.
“Not only was Mr Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing a case that never should have existed, and arrested in an operation that never should have been approved, but there were also serious questions about the jury in the case,” she said in a statement.
Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, 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.”
Stone, 67, was sentenced to 40 months in prison in February after being convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The charges stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation which detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Stone was one of several Trump associates charged in Mueller’s inquiry.
Scott Anderson, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, called Trump’s decision a “remarkable move” that was likely to incur political costs ahead of November’s presidential election.