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President Donald Trump on Friday commuted the prison sentence of his longtime friend Roger Stone, who was convicted of crimes that included lying to Congress in part, prosecutors said, to protect the President. The announcement came just days before Stone was set to report to a federal prison in Georgia.
Stone was convicted in November of seven charges -- including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional committee proceeding -- as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Among the things he misled Congress about were his communications with Trump campaign officials -- communications that prosecutors said Stone hid out of his desire to protect Trump.
Trump's decision to commute the sentence of his friend and political adviser is the crescendo of a months-long effort to rewrite the history of the Mueller investigation. This has included selective declassification of intelligence materials, a ramped-up counter-investigation into the origins of the Russia probe and attempts to drop the case against Michael Flynn. The President has broad constitutional power to pardon or commute sentences. But Trump is unlike almost any other president in how he's used the power proactively to save political allies.
"Roger Stone is 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," said Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary. "There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia."
She added, "Mr. Stone, like every American, deserves a fair trial and every opportunity to vindicate himself before the courts. The President does not wish to interfere with his efforts to do so. At this time, however, and particularly in light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the President has determined to commute his sentence. 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!"
The clock for Stone was ticking. The Justice Department said this week it supported Stone going to prison Tuesday and an appeals court declined to give him another delay on Friday.
Friendship over law
The friendship between Trump and Stone stretches back roughly 40 years, albeit with some rocky periods along the way. They were first introduced in the 1970s through a man they both admired: Roy Cohn, the lawyer who served as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's counsel during his communism investigation and who was later in life disbarred for unethical conduct.
"Roy thought Roger was a very tough guy. Roy knew some very tough guys, I will tell you that. But Roy always felt that Roger was not only tough, but a smart guy and very political," Trump said in the 2017 Netflix documentary "Get Me Roger Stone."
In the years that followed, Stone befriended the Trump family, attended two of Trump's three weddings, went to the funerals for both of Trump's parents and spent years agitating for his friend to run for president, Stone said in interviews.
"I was like a jockey looking for a horse. You can't win the race if you don't have a horse. And he is a prime piece of political horse flesh, in my view," Stone said in the Netflix documentary about one of his efforts in the late 1980s to convince Trump to run for president.
In the same documentary, Trump confirmed that Stone had pressed him over and over again to make a bid for the Oval Office.
"Roger always wanted me to run for president. And over the years, every time a presidential race came up, he always wanted me to run," Trump said. "And I just didn't have interest at that time. And nor was the country in trouble like it is today."