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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Explained: Who is Roger Stone whose jail sentence Donald Trump has commuted?

Roger Stone has always maintained that the case against him is politically motivated. Donald Trump has consistently backed him and denounced the investigation aggressively.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 12, 2020 2:11:05 pm
roger stone sentence commute. donald trump roger stone, who is roger stone, 2016 US election russia intervention probe,. Roger Stone is accompanied by his wife Nydia as he arrives at federal court in Washington for his sentencing (File/Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

On Friday, US President Donald Trump commuted the jail sentence of former adviser and longtime ally Roger Stone, sparking condemnation from some leading Democrats. Stone, 67, was just days away from reporting to prison where he was supposed to spend 40 months for crimes related to Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.

The commutation of Stone’s sentence comes after Trump fired Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney in Manhattan who investigated several associates of Trump, including his former lawyer Michael Cohen who was convicted of campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress.

Why was Stone’s sentence commuted?

A press release issued by the White House Friday said that Stone was 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. There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia,” the statement read.

“In addition to charging Mr. Stone with alleged crimes arising solely from their own improper investigation, the Mueller prosecutors also took pains to make a public and shameful spectacle of his arrest. Mr. Stone is a 67-year-old man, with numerous medical conditions, who had never been convicted of another crime.”

Trump took to Twitter and said, “Roger Stone was targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt that never should have taken place. It is the other side that are criminals, including Biden and Obama, who spied on my campaign – AND GOT CAUGHT!”

According to a report in The New York Times, Trump has used his presidential powers to issue pardons and commutations to many of his political allies, supporters and people with connections to his own circle. “But Mr. Stone is the first figure directly connected to the president’s campaign to benefit from his clemency power,” the report said.

Who is Roger Stone?

Stone is a Republican operative since the 1970s. He is said to be a fan of Richard Nixon, the only American President to have been forced to resign in the face of imminent removal from office following impeachment. Media profiles of Stone have noted that he even has a tattoo of Nixon on his back between his shoulder blades.

In the 1980s, he co-founded a lobbying firm that represented dictators like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines among others.

Stone worked for Ronald Reagan’s successful Presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984, and was involved with the campaign of George H W Bush in 1988.

Stone, who has been a political consultant and strategist for decades, has referred to himself as a “dirty trickster” and an “agent provocateur” as he took credit for exposing the prostitution scandal that led to the exit of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in 2008.

Stone worked as a lobbyist for Trump’s casino business in the 1990s and on Trump’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2000. According to a Netflix documentary, he was the one who reportedly persuaded Trump to run again, and was also involved with the campaign briefly before the two men fell out.

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Since becoming President, Trump has distanced himself from Stone, even though the latter has spoken in his favour repeatedly. Commentators have seen him as the quintessential Trump groupie — a Financial Times article described him thus: “To hang out with Stone is to smell the essence of Trumpism — resentful, brooding, dark and always trying to get one over whoever is in the way.”

The case against Stone

Stone was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction, and witness-tampering in November 2019.  He was sentenced for trying to help Trump evade taking responsibility in allegations that he conspired with the Russians his 2016 presidential election campaign .

Stone has always maintained that the case against him is politically motivated. Trump has consistently backed him and denounced the investigation aggressively.

The charges against Stone arose from former Special Counsel Robert S Mueller’s Russia probe. Mueller was tasked with the responsibility of investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Mueller’s charges against Stone included six counts of false statements and one count of witness-tampering. In Stone’s 24-page indictment, Mueller also mentioned “unauthorised intrusions” in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s computer systems, which became public in the middle of 2016.

Last week, prosecutors in the case recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years for Stone, which the Justice Department declared as excessive.

A memo filed by the US Attorney Timothy J Shea with the US District Court for District of Columbia on February 11, 2020 concluded that the defendant had committed “serious offences” and deserved a sentence incarceration that was “sufficient, but not greater than necessary”.

It also said: “Based on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 and 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.”

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