October 26, 2020

Trump Commutes Sentence of Roger Stone in Case He Long Denounced

WASHINGTON — President Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. on seven felony crimes on Friday, according to the White House, using the power of his office to help a former campaign adviser days before Mr. Stone was to report to a federal prison to serve a 40-month term.

Mr. Stone, 67, a longtime Republican operative convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation into Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, has been openly lobbying for clemency, maintaining that he could die in prison and emphasizing that he had stayed loyal to the president rather than help investigators.

“He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,” Mr. Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman on Friday before the announcement. “It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”

Mr. Trump has long argued that Mr. Stone was persecuted and lashed out at the prosecutors, the judge and even the jury forewoman in his case. The real villains, he argued, were former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom he has falsely accused of spying on his campaign, as well as the people who investigated his associates, including the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey.

“Roger Stone was very unfairly treated, as were many people,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday hours before issuing the order sparing Mr. Stone from prison time. “And in the meantime, Comey and all these guys who are walking around, including Biden and Obama — because we caught them spying on my campaign. Who would have believed that one?”

Granting clemency to Mr. Stone is certain to prompt new complaints that the Trump administration is thwarting the federal justice system to help the president’s friends. The Justice Department moved in May to dismiss its own criminal case against Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. And last month Mr. Trump fired Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney whose office prosecuted Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, and has been investigating Rudolph W. Giuliani, another of his lawyers.

Mr. Trump has used his power to issue pardons or commutations to a variety of political allies, supporters or people with connections to his own circle, like the former New York police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, the financier Michael R. Milken and former Governor Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois. But Mr. Stone is the first figure directly connected to the president’s campaign to benefit from his clemency power. While Mr. Trump has publicly dangled pardons for associates targeted by investigators, that was a line he had been wary of crossing until now amid warnings from adviser concerned about the possible political damage.

Mr. Stone made no secret of his desire for clemency from the president. While it was not immediately clear when the two last spoke, Mr. Stone has given several interviews in which he said he was “praying” for a reprieve from Mr. Trump. He cited health concerns, including asthma, and a fear of the coronavirus.

“I think I’ll be the last person to know” if there is an action from the president, Mr. Stone told Fox News earlier this week. “He hates leaks, and he hates to be told what to do. I have instructed my lawyers not to contact the lawyers at the White House.”

Mr. Stone added: “The president, who I’ve known for 40 years, has an incredible sense of fairness. He is aware that the people trying to destroy Michael Flynn, now trying to destroy me, are the people trying to destroy him.”

Mr. Stone has been one of the most colorful figures in American politics for decades, cheerfully engaging in tactics that others would disavow. He made political contributions to a Republican challenger to President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 under the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and hired an operative to try to infiltrate the campaign of George McGovern, the Democratic candidate.

He was accused of leaving a threatening, profanity-laced voice mail message for the father of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, resulting in his resignation. But he later got his revenge on Mr. Spitzer by claiming credit for spreading the rumor that the governor wore black dress socks during sexual escapades with prostitutes.

An unapologetic admirer of Mr. Nixon who even had the disgraced president’s face tattooed on his back, Mr. Stone also worked for other major Republican candidates including former Gov. Tom Kean of New Jersey and Senator Bob Dole, the party’s 1996 nominee for president.

Mr. Stone’s history of scandals and dirty tricks did not trouble Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone is not only Mr. Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, but he has been integral to most of the president’s political activities over the past 33 years. He was there when the celebrity real estate developer first wrote “The Art of the Deal” in 1987 and a makeshift effort in New Hampshire was made to draft Mr. Trump to run for president.

He helped organize Mr. Trump’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee in 2011, where he declared himself against abortion rights. And he helped map out the first days of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign before leaving after several weeks over the direction of the campaign.

Mr. Stone quit as an adviser to Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign; Mr. Trump later claimed he fired Mr. Stone. Either way, the falling out was sour. Mr. Trump later called him a “stone-cold loser” and aides said the president viewed him as self-promoter.

But after Mr. Stone was indicted, the president repeatedly hinted that he might pardon him. “Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly,” he said after Mr. Stone was sentenced. “This has not been a fair process.”

The debate over clemency for Mr. Stone has raged within the White House for months. Among those who advocated on behalf of it from outside the building were Tucker Carlson, the influential Fox News anchor, and Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Within the White House itself, Mr. Stone had few allies. Many Trump aides who knew him from the campaign did not like him, were envious of his long relationship with Mr. Trump or thought clemency would be bad politics.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, expressed concern about possible political damage, according to two people familiar with the discussions, although he has left people with different impressions about where he stands. The same is true of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been involved in most of the clemency discussions throughout the last three years.

Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, was concerned about intervening on Mr. Stone’s behalf, according to the people close to the discussions. One of the few within the White House who backed clemency was Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser and an old friend of Mr. Stone. Mr. Kudlow spends more time with Mr. Trump than many other advisers.

Mr. Stone was convicted last year of obstructing a congressional inquiry into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Prosecutors convinced jurors that he lied under oath, withheld a trove of documents and threatened an associate with harm if he cooperated with congressional investigators. Mr. Stone maintained his innocence and claimed prosecutors wanted him to offer information about Mr. Trump that he said did not exist.

Mr. Stone was sentenced against a backdrop of upheaval at the Justice Department not seen for decades. First, four career prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, citing advisory sentencing guidelines that generally govern the department’s sentencing requests.

After Mr. Trump attacked the prosecutors’ recommendation on Twitter, Attorney General William P. Barr overruled it. Mr. Trump then publicly applauded him for doing so, even though the attorney general said he made the decision on his own and criticized the president on national television for undercutting his credibility.

The prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest, and one quit the department entirely. At Mr. Stone’s sentencing hearing in February, United States District Judge Amy Berman Jackson called the situation “unprecedented.” Without naming him, she suggested that the president had tried to influence the course of justice by publicly attacking her, the jurors and the Justice Department lawyers.

“The dismay and disgust at any attempt to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party,” she said.

In an interview with ABC News this week, Mr. Barr defended both the original prosecution of Mr. Stone as well as his own intervention to reduce the punishment, saying the case itself was “righteous” but the sentencing recommendation “excessive.”

Mr. Stone, who lives in Florida, had been ordered earlier to report to the Bureau of Prisons by June 30 to begin serving his sentence. He sought a two-month delay, citing the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through federal prisons, but Judge Jackson granted him only a two-week reprieve, noting that the prison he was to report to was “unaffected” by the outbreak.

Two other former aides to Mr. Trump who were convicted of federal crimes were released from prison to serve out their sentences under home arrest because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Cohen, who broke with Mr. Trump and publicly accused him of vast wrongdoing, was released from a federal prison camp in May, but taken back into custody this week after refusing to agree to terms of his probation that would have forced him to scrub a tell-all book he planned to publish in September. He was serving a three-year sentence for campaign finance violations and other crimes related a scheme to pay hush money during the 2016 presidential race to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump, which the president has denied.

Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, was also released in May from a central Pennsylvania prison, where he was serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence for bank and tax fraud. He is now confined at home.