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Trump Commutes Stone Prison Sentence   07/11 10:27

   President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of his longtime political 
confidant Roger Stone, intervening in extraordinary fashion in a criminal case 
that was central to the Russia investigation and that concerned the president's 
own conduct.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of his 
longtime political confidant Roger Stone, intervening in extraordinary fashion 
in a criminal case that was central to the Russia investigation and that 
concerned the president's own conduct.

   The move came Friday, just days before Stone was to begin serving a 40-month 
prison sentence for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the 
House investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to win 
the 2016 election.

   The action, which Trump had foreshadowed in recent days, underscores the 
president's lingering rage over special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation 
and is part of a continuing effort by the president and his administration to 
rewrite the narrative of a probe that has shadowed the White House from the 
outset. Democrats, already alarmed by the Justice Department's earlier 
dismissal of the case against Trump's first national security adviser, Michael 
Flynn, denounced the president as further undermining the rule of law.

   Stone, 67, had been set to report to prison on Tuesday after a federal 
appeals court rejected his bid to postpone his surrender date. But he told The 
Associated Press that Trump called him 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 said 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."

   Although a commutation does not nullify Stone's felony convictions, it 
protects him from serving prison time as a result.

   The move is another extraordinary intervention by Trump in the nation's 
justice system and underscores anew his willingness to flout the norms and 
standards that have governed presidential conduct for decades. As Trump stares 
down a coronavirus pandemic that has worsened his chances for reelection, he 
has been more willing than ever to test the limits of his power.

   Democrats denounced Trump's action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday 
called it "an act of staggering corruption," saying legislation is needed to 
prevent a president from pardoning or commuting the sentence of someone who 
acted to shield that president from prosecution.

   House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff called it "offensive to the 
rule of law and principles of justice. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom 
Perez asked, "Is there any power Trump won't abuse?"

   Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, also condemned the move. 
"Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the 
sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very 
president," he tweeted Saturday.

   White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in a statement, called Stone a 
"victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media," and 
declared, "Roger Stone is now a free man!"

   Stone had been open about his desire for a pardon or commutation, appealing 
for the president's help in a monthslong television and social media campaign 
and seeking to postpone his surrender date by months after getting a brief 
extension from the judge, in part by citing the coronavirus.

   Trump, who had made clear in recent days that he was inching closer to 
acting, had repeatedly publicly inserted himself into Stone's case, including 
just before Stone's sentencing.

   That earned a public rebuke from his own attorney general, William Barr, who 
said the president's comments were "making it impossible" for him to do his 
job. Barr was so incensed that he told people he was considering resigning over 
the matter.

   "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," 
Schiff said. "Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and all those who enable them pose the 
gravest of threats to the rule of law."

   Stone, a larger-than-life political character who embraced his reputation as 
a dirty trickster, was the sixth Trump aide or adviser to have been convicted 
of charges brought during Mueller's investigation.

   A longtime Trump friend and informal adviser, Stone boasted during the 
campaign that he was in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a 
trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to 
release more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic 
National Committee.

   But Stone denied any wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against 
him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during his trial, did 
not speak at his sentencing. His lawyers did not call any witnesses in his 
defense.

   Prosecutors had originally recommended Stone serve seven to nine years in 
prison. But in a highly unusual move, Barr reversed that decision after a Trump 
tweet and recommended a more lenient punishment, prompting a mini-revolt inside 
the Justice Department, with the entire prosecution team resigning from the 
case.

   Department officials have vehemently denied Barr was responding to Trump's 
criticism and have insisted there was no contact with the White House over the 
decision. Barr has also pointed out that the judge, in imposing a 40-month 
sentence, had agreed with him that the original sentencing recommendation was 
excessive.

   Barr has said the prosecution was justified, and the Justice Department did 
not support Stone's more recent effort to put off his surrender date. Though 
the Justice Department raised concerns about the handling of Flynn's case, 
including what it said were irregularities about his FBI interview, prosecutors 
did not point to any similar issues or problems with the Stone prosecution.

   Even so, the commutation will almost certainly contribute to a portrait of a 
president determined to erase the impact of the Russia investigation and to 
intervene on behalf of allies.

   The commutation was the latest example of Trump using his unlimited clemency 
power to pardon powerful men he believes have been mistreated by the justice 
system.

   Trump went on a clemency spree in February, commuting the 14-year prison 
sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and pardoning 
former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, financier Michael Milken 
and several others.

   Trump has also offered clemency to other political allies, including Joe 
Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff who was awaiting sentencing at the time, 
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.

   Trump, however, has spent much more time trumpeting his decision to commute 
the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison for 
nonviolent drug offenses and who came to Trump's attention after reality star 
Kim Kardashian West took up her cause. Her story was featured in a Trump 
campaign Super Bowl ad.

   Stone told the AP he expressed his gratitude to Trump in the phone call.

   "You know, he has a great sense of fairness," Stone said. "We've been 
friends for many, many years, and he understands that I was targeted strictly 
for political reasons."

 
 
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