President Trump has commuted the sentence of long-time confidante Roger Stone who was to report to prison on July 14 to serve 40 months after being found guilty of seven counts, including obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress.
During Stone’s trial, which stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Trump Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates, himself a convicted felon, testified that Stone served as a liaison between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which published a steady stream of hacked DNC emails, stolen by Russia and used to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Stone’s prosecution and conviction were fraught with drama and controversy as the president through a series of tweets tried to pressure trial Judge Amy Berman Jackson to go light on his former campaign adviser and Attorney General William Barr stepped in to get prosecutors to reduce their sentencing recommendations from seven-to-nine year to between two and four years. The highly unusual intervention prompted withdrawals and resignations from four prosecutors associated with the case and drew strong criticism from lawmakers and legal experts.
Gates recounted a summer 2016 phone call in which he heard Trump speak to trusted confidante Stone about the apparently stolen emails. Gates said that, upon hanging up, the president turned to him and stated, “More information would be coming.” WikiLeaks steadily released the emails, intending to make Hillary Clinton look bad, before the 2016 presidential election. The call that was witnessed by Gates, who was indicted along with his business partner, former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, for their business dealings with pro-Russian officials in Ukraine, occurred before the first email release.
Trump told investigators in the Mueller probe that he didn’t “recall discussing WikiLeaks with” Stone nor did he recollect his longtime adviser “having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign.”
But prosecutors produced an email sent after the DNC hack in which Stone asked Gates, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, for Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s contact information.
And Gates’s testimony Tuesday gibed with that of former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who earlier in the trial told jurors that Stone was the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while he orchestrated the steady drip of emails leaked in the latter half of 2016 leading up to the election.
Rumors had swirled for months that Trump would pardon Stone, with the president hinting that he was leaning in that direction. Earlier in the day, in an interview with Fox News, Stone had said he’d prefer a commutation of his sentence.