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President Trump Commutes Roger Stone's Sentence


President Trump has commuted the prison sentence of his longtime friend Roger Stone. Stone, just to remind everyone, is the Republican operative who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during Russia's interference in the 2016 election. He was due to report to federal prison next week to begin a three-year term. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following this case and is with us now.

Hey, Ryan.


CHANG: Hi. So what do we know about why President Trump made this decision now today?

LUCAS: Well, this decision was not a surprise. As you noted, Stone was to report to prison next week. And Trump has long made clear that he thought that Stone was treated unfairly. Now, in its statement announcing this tonight, the White House says that Stone was the victim of what it calls the Russia hoax. The White House says that Stone was charged by overzealous prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, pursuing a case that the White House says never should have existed. And it says that Stone wouldn't be facing prison time if Mueller's team hadn't been pursuing this, quote-unquote, "baseless investigation." The White House also raises questions about the fairness of the jury that convicted Stone, saying that the foreperson was biased against Trump. I will say that Stone raised that issue himself in court. The judge examined it and ultimately rejected it. The White House also says that sending Stone to prison would be a serious risk to his health. He is 67. There are concerns about the coronavirus. The White House, I will say, closes its statement by saying that Stone was treated unfairly and that Roger Stone is now a free man.

CHANG: And just remind us of exactly what it was that Stone was convicted of doing and why this case drew so much attention. I mean, it seems like a lifetime ago at this point.

LUCAS: Well, Stone is a very colorful character. That's part of why this case drew so much attention. He was the last person indicted as part of Mueller's investigation. He was charged, as you noted, with lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. Those all related to Stone's efforts to keep secret his attempts, during the 2016 campaign, to learn what WikiLeaks planned to do with hacked Democratic emails that it had received. Stone went to trial. He was convicted by a jury in November on all seven counts against him. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison. It was actually three years and four months in all. Now, the White House's view on Stone's case is very different from that of Attorney General William Barr, who, as we know, is a critic of the Russia investigation, has been very critical of it. Barr said this week that Stone's prosecution was, quote, "righteous" and that his sentence was fair.

CHANG: OK, so essentially, this commutation ends Stone's legal fight. But could it actually add some fuel now to the political fight over the Russian investigation, do you think?

LUCAS: The partisan battle lines over the Russia investigation are so clearly drawn at this point that it's hard to see anything really moving them. Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, who is a key Trump ally on the Hill, for example, put out a statement this evening supporting the president's decision. Democrats view clemency for Stone through a different lens. They viewed as an affront to the rule of law. Adam Schiff is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He says Stone lied to Congress and obstructed its investigation in order to protect Trump, who is now commuting Stone's sentence. Schiff described this action as one of Trump's most offensive ones against the rule of law and justice, and he says that there are two systems of justice under Trump; one for Trump's friends and one for everyone else.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.