In a move that was both widely expected and staggeringly corrupt, almost without American precedent, President Donald Trump granted commutation to longtime friend, adviser, and convicted felon Roger Stone on Friday, cutting short the more than three year prison sentence that a federal judge handed him in February. The move comes as a reward—something Trump had publicly hinted about—for defending the president throughout the Russia investigation. Last year, a jury found Stone guilty on all seven counts brought forth by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Trump’s grant spares Stone just days before he was set to report to prison, a start date that Stone had asked a federal appeals court to postpone in light of coronavirus concerns. The request to delay his surrender date until September—which had already been postponed from April to June—was denied on Friday, Politico reported. But Stone was reportedly confident that the president would step in to protect him just as he had protected Trump—by keeping his mouth shut—during the Russia probe. On Friday afternoon, political commentator and journalist Howard Fineman tweeted that he had “just had a long talk with [Stone]. He says he doesn’t want a pardon (which implies guilt) but a commutation, and says he thinks Trump will give it to him.” During the conversation, Stone told Fineman that “[Trump] knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”
And later that night, in a statement announcing the “Executive Grant of Clemency commuting the unjust sentence of Roger Stone, Jr.” signed by Trump, the White House declared Stone to be “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.” Politico notes that unlike an outright pardon, which would absolve Stone completely, a commutation allows Stone to proceed with an appeal of his conviction.
“Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison. He has appealed his conviction and is seeking a new trial,” the White House stated, adding that “Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!”
New portions of the Mueller report relating to the Stone case were recently unsealed, Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare reported, after Buzzfeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center successfully sued for the release of a less-redacted version. In the report, Mueller appears to have suspected that Trump was lying in his written answers, something Stone could have revealed by providing contradictory evidence. Mueller hints Trump’s awareness of this to be why he then started complimenting Stone on Twitter, praising him for having the “guts” not to testify against the president and being “very brave” in refusing to cooperate with prosecutors—statements that, Mueller writes, “support the inference that the President intended to communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony adverse to the President and disparaged if they chose to cooperate.” In a Twitter thread following the White House’s Friday night announcement, Jurecic summarized what the new shreds of information indicate: “Stone knew about the emails hacked by Russia and he told Trump about it; Mueller suspected that Trump lied to Mueller about it; and then Trump hinted publicly that Stone could be rewarded if he refused to contradict Trump.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff denounced the transactional nature of the commutation. “Stone repeatedly lied to the House Intelligence Committee under oath and threatened a witness, all to cover up an effort by President Trump and his campaign to secretly communicate with Wikileaks and exploit its release of Russian-hacked emails targeting his opponent,” Schiff said in a statement. “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.”
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— The Parallel Universe of Ivanka Trump, America’s Dissociated Princess
— “No, I Am Not Okay”: A Black Journalist Addresses His White Friends
— Why Bankrupt Hertz Is a Pandemic Zombie
— Scenes of Fury and Mourning at the Minneapolis Protests
— Civil Rights Advocate Brandi Collins-Dexter on Why Facebook Chooses Trump Over Democracy
— Democrats’ Blue-Texas Fever Dream May Finally Become a Reality
— From the Archive: Taking Stock of Melania Trump, the Unprepared—And Lonely—FLOTUS
Looking for more? Sign up for our daily Hive newsletter and never miss a story.