'Witch Hunt': Trump commutes longtime adviser Roger Stone's prison sentence

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, sparing him from prison after he was convicted of lying under oath to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. 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, announced on Friday evening, as an assault on the rule of law.

In his first remarks on his decision, Trump on Saturday painted Stone as a victim and lashed out against Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as vice president.

“Roger Stone was targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt that never should have taken place. It is the other side that are criminals, including the fact that Biden and Obama illegally spied on my campaign — AND GOT CAUGHT!” the president tweeted.

The veteran Republican political operative’s friendship with Trump dates back decades. Stone, 67, was scheduled to report by Tuesday to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, to begin serving a sentence of three years and four months.

Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, opted to give Stone a commutation, which does not erase a criminal conviction, rather than a full pardon.

Stone emerged from his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home on Friday night after the commutation of his sentence was announced wearing a mask with the words “Free Roger Stone.”

“This is a horrific, horrific nightmare when you realize that this investigation never had any legitimate or lawful beginning, it was a witch hunt,” Stone said using some of the same words Trump has hurled at prosecutors and Democrats who investigated Moscow’s role in the 2016 U.S. election.

Stone was among several Trump associates charged with crimes in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Russian interference to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

The White House criticized Mueller’s investigation and the prosecutors in Stone’s case, saying the Left and its allies in the media attempted for years to undermine the Trump presidency.

Mueller’s investigation found extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russians.

Republican reaction on Capitol Hill was largely muted, with a handful of Trump allies welcoming the action.

But Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican to vote to convict Trump at his Senate impeachment trial, denounced the action on Twitter: “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”

Congressional Democrats and other critics have accused Trump of undermining the rule of law by publicly complaining about criminal cases against associates including Stone, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

“Congress will take action to prevent this type of brazen wrongdoing,” U.S Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Saturday. “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.”



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