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.
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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.
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