Updated Saturday at 10:22 a.m. ET
President Trump on Friday evening commuted the prison sentence of his longtime friend Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
"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," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. "There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia."
"Roger Stone has already suffered greatly," she continued. "He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!"
Stone's attorney Robert Buschel told NPR, "We are grateful and relieved. Glad this nightmare is over."
The commutation, which Trump issued days before Stone was to report to federal prison, brings an end to Stone's legal fight — but only further inflames the political battle over his prosecution and the broader Russia investigation.
Earlier Friday evening, a federal appeals court had denied an emergency bid from Stone to stay out of prison.
The case against Stone was brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Stone was indicted on charges of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction. The charges related to his efforts during the 2016 presidential race to act as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks was releasing Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence services, and Stone publicly and privately presented himself as someone with inside knowledge about the group's operations.
After the election, when Stone was questioned under oath about the matter by the House Intelligence Committee, he lied to lawmakers about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks. He also tried to prevent an associate from testifying before the committee.
After a tumultuous runup to his trial, during which the presiding judge, Amy Berman Jackson, imposed a gag order on Stone after he published a threatening photograph of her, a jury found him guilty on all seven counts in November.
After his trial, Stone raised allegations of juror misconduct and tried to get the verdict dismissed. Jackson entertained the motion, even holding a hearing in which she brought back members of the jury for questioning, but she ultimately rejected Stone's bid for a new trial and sentenced him to more than three years in prison.
Stone has since appealed his conviction.
In an interview this month with ABC News, Attorney General William Barr called Stone's prosecution "righteous" and said the sentence handed down was "fair."
On Twitter Friday night, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that "commuting Roger Stone's sentence is a terrible blow to justice and the rule of law." He added: "Through this act, Trump is saying: 'If you lie for me, if you cover up for me, if you obstruct for me, I will protect you.' "
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, also blasted the commutation, calling it "[u]nprecedented, historic corruption" on Twitter on Saturday morning.
Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 11, 2020
Stone was scheduled to report to prison on July 1, but he received a two-week reprieve from Jackson because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, he filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to try to postpone his surrender date. The court denied that request on Friday evening.
Stone's legal defense fund sent out a fundraising appeal with a message from Stone's wife, Nydia, asking for donations to help buy advertisements online and on Fox TV in the Washington, D.C., area to appeal to the president to keep her husband out of prison.
Prisons have become hotbeds of infection, and authorities have sought to mitigate the spread as much as possible, including with releases of inmates who are then expected to confine themselves at home.
Stone was the last person charged under the Mueller investigation, and he is one of two Trump advisers to go to trial as part of the probe.
The other, Paul Manafort, served as Trump's campaign chairman and is a former business partner of Stone's. Manafort was convicted of a range of crimes. He was sentenced to more than seven years in prison but was released to home confinement this year due to the pandemic.
The president has been outspoken about the case against both men. He has repeatedly said that he feels Stone and Manafort were being treated unfairly despite the fact that juries convicted both of them.
Trump's views square with his theory that the Russia investigation was a plot by the so-called deep state to hamstring his presidency.
Trump also repeatedly left open the door for a pardon for both men.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Roger Stone remains a free man this morning. The Republican operative and longtime friend of Donald Trump was convicted of lying to Congress as it investigated Trump's 2016 campaign. He was due to report to federal prison next week. His conviction stands. But last night, he got a call.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROGER STONE: Just a few minutes ago, I had a very gracious call from the president of the United States. He told me that he had decided to use his extraordinary powers of clemency to commute my sentence.
SIMON: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following the Stone case and joins us now. Ryan, thanks so much for being with us.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: The White House, in an official statement, called Roger Stone a victim of, quote, "the Russia Hoax." What else do we know about why the president commuted his sentence?
LUCAS: Well, the president has long said that he feels that Stone was treated unfairly. And the White House, in its statement last night, said that Stone was charged by, what it calls, overzealous prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller's team pursuing a case, that in the White House's view, never should have existed. It says that Stone would not be facing prison time if Mueller's team hadn't been pursuing what it calls a baseless investigation. In essence, what the White House is saying in this statement is that Stone was the victim of an unfair investigation.
The White House also raised questions about possible bias on the jury in Stone's trial, saying that the foreperson was biased against Trump. Stone himself, I will say, raised these issues in court. The presiding judge in his case examined them and ultimately rejected them.
The White House in its statement also raised health concerns about sending Stone to prison. Stone is 67 years old.
Now, the White House's view on Stone's prosecution is very different from that of attorney general, who is, as we know, no fan of the Russia investigation. Barr said this past week that Stone's prosecution was, quote, "righteous" and that his sentence was fair.
SIMON: Ryan, trace for us the history, again, of how the Russian investigation resulted in charges against Roger Stone and then ultimately a conviction.
LUCAS: So Stone was the last person indicted as part of the Mueller investigation. He was charged with lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering, and all of those charges related to Stone's attempts to keep secret his efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign - to learn what WikiLeaks planned to do with democratic emails, emails - I'll say that - the U.S. government says were hacked by Russia's intelligence services. And, of course, those emails became a major focus of the 2016 campaign. Now, Stone fought the charges. He went to trial. He was convicted by a jury in November on all seven counts that were brought against him. He was sentenced, ultimately, to three years and four months in prison. And as we said, he was scheduled to go to prison next Tuesday.
SIMON: Ryan, this commutation is being seen by the president's critics as the president abusing his power for his friends and allies and subverting justice. So the political fight over the Russia investigation isn't over. Do you think this move by the president could change that fight in the months ahead?
LUCAS: It's hard to see anything changing the dynamics of the political fight over the Russian investigation at this point. Republicans, like Congressman Jim Jordan - he's a key Trump ally on the Hill - came out in support of this move to grant a commutation to Stone. But for Democrats and the president's critics, as you noted, they have condemned Trump's decision to commute Stone's sentence, and they call it an attack on the rule of law. They also say that it's part of a pattern. They point to the administration's decision earlier this year to drop charges against the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. And now this decision to commute Stone's sentence, they say, is evidence of politics infecting the judicial system. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, points to this and says, there are two justice systems in America right now - one for Trump's friends and another for everybody else.
SIMON: NPR's justice correspondent, Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.