US President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of Roger Stone, a friend and former advisor, who was facing over three years in prison. Stone had been sentenced after the congressional probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"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 Trump administration decried Robert Mueller's investigation and the prosecutors who brought the case against Stone, saying he was 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."
Although Trump has repeatedly stepped in to protect his associates, this marks his highest-profile intervention in a criminal case. Critics accuse the president of undermining the rule of law.
"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," House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said.
Unlike a presidential pardon, a commutation would not erase Stone's criminal record. But it does protect him from serving a prison sentence.
Trump fought for Stone
Stone, a Republican operative whose career spans decades, was the sixth Trump aide or adviser convicted of charges brought as part of Mueller's investigation.
A self-described "dirty trickster" and "agent provocateur," Stone had boasted during the 2016 presidential campaign to have been in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and of having knowledge of the organization's plans to release thousands of hacked emails from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
But Stone always denied any criminal wrongdoing and repeatedly said that the case against him was politically motivated.
Trump's AG pushed for shorter sentence
Once Stone was found guilty, prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone. But in a highly unusual move, Trump's Attorney General William Barr then interjected and reversed that decision, shortly after Trump publicly demanded a more lenient punishment.
Barr's actions prompted the entire prosecution team to resign from Stone's case. Barr has also sought to dismiss the charges against Trump aide Michael Flynn, who had pled guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador as part of the Mueller's investigation.
"Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and all those who enable them pose the gravest of threats to the rule of law,'' Congressman Schiff said on Friday, linking Barr to what he saw as a miscarriage of justice.
Trump has also offered clemency to other political allies, including anti-immigration former Sheriff from Arizona Joe Arpaio, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who had been convicted on campaign finance violations, and Conrad Black, a newspaper publisher convicted of fraud, who had written a flattering book about the president.
jcg/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)