WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of longtime adviser Roger Stone days before he was to report to prison.
Stone was convicted of lying under oath and obstruction during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and had been sentenced to serve three years and four months.
"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!"
Commutation falls short of a full pardon and does not erase Stone's felony convictions in the way a pardon would. However, the action protects Stone from going to prison.
Stone was supposed to begin his prison sentence in Georgia on Tuesday after a federal appeals court declined his request to delay his surrender date.
After Trump’s announcement, Stone walked out of his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home wearing a “Free Roger Stone” mask and told reporters “This is a horrific, horrific nightmare when you realize that this investigation never had any legitimate or lawful beginning. It was a witch hunt.”
Stone told the Associated Press that Trump called him Friday evening with the news his sentence was commuted.
“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 as he celebrated with friends.
Stone has been a friend and advisor to Trump for decades. He has been public about his desire for a pardon, writing on Instagram that his life could be in jeopardy if he is imprisoned during a pandemic.
Trump has also publicly expressed unhappiness about the sentence, having tweeted that the conviction "should be thrown out” and that the Justice Department's initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years was "horrible and very unfair."
Trump’s tweets caused his own attorney general, William Barr, to rebuke him. Barr said earlier this year the president's comments were "making it impossible" for him to do his job.
Barr later recommended a lighter sentence for Stone, but denied he was responding to Trump’s criticism.
A Washington jury convicted Stone in November 2019 on seven criminal counts of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness.
Stone has denied any wrongdoing and has called the case against him politically motivated.
The White House said Stone "is 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."
"There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia. Such collusion was never anything other than a fantasy of partisans unable to accept the result of the 2016 election," the White House said.
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) condemned Trump's action, saying: "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."
Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mark Warner (D-VA), also criticized Trump’s commutation, tweeting “The United States was founded on the rule of law. It seems our president has nothing but contempt for it.”
Bill Russo, a spokesman for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who will likely face Trump in the November presidential election, accused Trump of abusing his authority “as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world.”