Trump acted just after a federal appeals court panel a last-ditch bid by Stone to delay an order for him to surrender at a federal prison in Jesup, Ga. next Tuesday. Stone claimed he suffered from health conditions that put him at serious risk of dying if he went to that prison, which is experiencing a coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s move to protect a close ally from charges stemming from a probe that also included an investigation of Trump’s own conduct is certain to set off explosive recriminations in the Democratically controlled House, where leaders have long said clemency for Trump’s inner circle would amount to obstruction of justice. It also comes despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s declaration that Stone’s prosecution was “righteous” and that he deserved jail time.
Trump’s involvement in the case already – criticizing the initial sentence proposed by prosecutors, attacking the judge and jury in the case – has prompted howls of outrage from Democrats, accusations of self-dealing and warning from Justice Department veterans about an effort to shatter the justice system’s independence to benefit the president.
Trump’s Friday evening move follows a frantic effort by Stone to keep himself out of jail, contending in a series of recent court filings that the coronavirus outbreak presented a life-threatening risk. But the federal judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, rejected his push to delay his sentence deeper into the summer and ordered him to prison on July 14, noting that his sentence – imposed in April – had already been postponed for months.
While the timing of a pardon for Stone has been the subject of speculation for some time, there has been little doubt that Trump would grant some form of clemency if it appeared Stone needed that to avoid prison.
“ Roger was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history. He can sleep well at night!” Trump last month.
However, Trump appeared to hold out hope until recently that such a pardon might not be necessary because Stone would be vindicated through post-trial motions or appeals. He’s taken a similar approach to charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose legal battle against a false statements charge has played out for years, even as Trump has assailed the prosecution.
“I want the process to play out,” the president said following Stone’s sentencing in February. “I would love to see Roger exonerated.”
By granting a commutation to Stone rather than an outright pardon, Trump allows his longtime adviser and confidant to continue with his appeal of his convictions.