Roger Stone is headed to prison next week unless Donald Trump intervenes. And a chorus of outside allies is pressing the president to do just that — over the wishes of White House and campaign aides who don’t like Stone and think Trump has nothing to gain by helping him.
Both camps expect Trump will at least split the difference by commuting Stone’s sentence, according to interviews with nine sources familiar with the discussions. A commutation would keep Stone from behind bars without wiping his record clean.
But Trump being Trump, no one knows where he’ll land ahead of Stone’s Tuesday commitment date.
Stone was convicted in a case related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election interference investigation and has lost repeated appeals to avoid his July 14 commitment date. He suffered another blow when Facebook booted him this week for allegedly posting “inauthentic” information related to his trial and clemency campaign.
Stone has little support in the White House and the Trump campaign. Corey Lewandowski, the 2016 campaign manager who advises the current reelection effort, has called Stone a serial liar. Stone’s friends say there’s also animosity with the campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Even Attorney General Bill Barr, who gummed up other investigations into the president, supports Stone’s imprisonment.
But outside the campaign and White House, Stone has support from influential backers that include Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, Newsmax founder Chris Ruddy and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a top Trump ally.
Gaetz has been so aggressive pressing the president for a pardon that it’s led to grumbling in the White House and among fellow Republican House members. Some of them grew uneasy with him for lobbying the president on Air Force One during a trip to Cape Canaveral to witness the SpaceX rocket launch in late May.
“Roger Stone should not disproportionately bear the burden of the corrupt Mueller investigation,” Gaetz said via Twitter on Wednesday. The day before, when a conservative writer tweeted that Stone was heading to prison in a week, Gaetz made a prediction: “No he is not.”
Gaetz wouldn’t discuss his conversations with the president and pointed to his numerous statements in support of Stone, including on ABC’s morning show “The View.”
“Anything I can say to Whoopie Goldberg, I can say to the president,” Gaetz told POLITICO.
Inside the White House and campaign, Trump advisors have hoped the problem would just go away. They would prefer that the president let Stone go to prison and then issue a pardon after the election, according to the sources with knowledge of the discussions.
Two sources said Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, favored the idea of a commutation that would keep Stone out of prison but give the president the ability to reward Stone’s loyalty and communicate his displeasure with the prosecution and Russia investigation. But two other sources, including one close to Trump’s son-in-law, said Kushner hasn’t given the issue much thought.
“It is correct that the option has been discussed, yes,” one senior administration official, asked about the commutation issue and Kushner, said. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, dismissed speculation that a commutation would be a political stopgap to avoid the bad optics of a full-blown pardon.
“The counter-argument is if a pardon is warranted, a pardon is warranted,” the source said. “You don’t tailor a legal decision based on reaction from Democrats when they will criticize anyway.”
White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows hasn’t taken clear sides in the controversy but is resigned to some sort of clemency, according to two other sources, given Trump’s denouncements of the Mueller probe and its treatment of Stone.
“Roger was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history” Trump said last month via Twitter, echoing comments he made this week to Real Clear Politics. “He can sleep well at night!”
But Stone, who declined to comment for this article, hasn’t had many restful nights of sleep lately, his friends and legal team say.
Stone has repeatedly petitioned to delay his incarceration date, citing poor health and his pending appeal. But the judge and Justice Department have refused, all but forcing the matter into Trump’s lap.
Those who know Trump and Stone say they’ve had an up-and-down relationship over the years. They think Trump is likely to grant clemency because of Stone’s loyalty, his omerta-style silence and his defiance of Congress and the Department of Justice. They also think Trump won’t want to let Stone’s conservative friends down by allowing him to go to prison.
“The president wants to look strong. He can’t get rolled by DOJ,” said one Trump adviser who is advocating for Stone.
Featured in the Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” Stone has deep roots in conservative media, where he’s achieved legendary status since starting his political career on President Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. Trump and Stone were introduced in 1980 by Roy Cohn, the lawyer who represented and was later lionized by the president, and is best known as former Sen. Joe McCarthy’s attorney.
Stone advised Trump during his first flirtation with a presidential bid ahead of 2000. He promoted a potential Trump candidacy in 2012 and was part of the 2016 campaign early on before the two had a falling out. Then followed a rapprochement and the allegations — denied by Stone — that he served as a liaison between the campaign and WikiLeaks for the release of emails hacked by Russian intelligence to damage Hillary Clinton.
During the 2016 campaign, Stone made enemies of Lewandowski, a current Trump campaign associate who could not be reached to comment for this article. When Lewandowski lost his job, it was celebrated so publicly by Trump campaign operative Michael Caputo, a longtime friend of Stone’s, that Caputo was subsequently pressured to quit.
Caputo, now a spokesman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, is forbidden by a court order from communicating with Stone but has made it clear he hopes the president will grant him clemency.
Other friends worry that Stone could meet the fate of his former lobbying partner and longtime friend, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort was also convicted and imprisoned after the election and did not receive clemency from the president.
Stone has also been at loggerheads for years with another Trump adviser and Lewandowski friend, Dave Bossie, who runs the group Citizens United. He sued Stone in 2008 for founding a rival anti-Hillary Clinton group, Citizens United Not Timid, creating an obscene acronym. Stone has also been critical of Trump’s current campaign manager, Parscale, who happens to live near him in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Neither Bossie nor Parscale returned messages for comment.
In the administration, Barr has been the most vocal in opposing a Stone pardon, a move that comes after Barr opposed a longer sentence meted out on the operative. This week, the attorney general said he believed the 40-month sentence for Stone is appropriate.
“I felt it was an appropriate prosecution and I thought the sentence was fair,” Barr told ABC, breaking with the president.
Trump’s expected clemency for Stone was criticized by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who said in a written statement Thursday that Stone “lied before our Committee and was justly convicted for that crime.”
“Mr. Stone’s lies to the Committee were in the service of protecting President Trump and concealing his efforts to obtain advance notice and make use of documents hacked by Russian intelligence services to his advantage in the 2016 campaign,” Schiff said. “A pardon or commutation would only further demonstrate the President’s contempt for the integrity of the justice system and the rule of law.”
Betsy Woodruff Swan, Jake Sherman, Alex Isenstadt and Tina Nguyen contributed to this report.
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