Roger Stone allies say they are taking heart in President Trump’s decision to grant clemency to a host of offenders just days before his sentencing. Judge Amy Berman Jackson is set to sentence Stone on Thursday now that a jury found him guilty of a host of crimes related to his conduct during investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who counts Stone as a close friend and mentor, told The Daily Beast he found Trump’s Tuesday clemency moves encouraging. Trump pardoned seven people and shortened the prison sentences of four others.
“The president has proven that he uses his clemency powers judiciously and thoughtfully, and we know that he is being very thoughtful about Roger’s situation,” said Caputo, who heads a group of Stone pals pushing for him to receive a pardon. He added that while the group hasn’t communicated directly with the White House or Justice Department, they’re open to any such conversations.
Stone worked for decades as an infamous Republican operative, lobbyist, and self-described dirty trickster. He has known Trump for years, going back long before his 2016 presidential bid. And for a brief time, he worked on that campaign. He later found himself at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because of his interactions during the race with people linked to Wikileaks. In November of last year, a jury in D.C. convicted him of witness tampering, lying to Congress, and obstructing a congressional proceeding.
Last week, the career Justice Department prosecutors trying the case recommended the judge sentence him to up to nine years in prison. Trump tweeted out a few hours later that the recommendation horrified him, and called the situation a “miscarriage of justice.” The next afternoon, Justice Department headquarters overruled the recommendation and said Stone should receive a considerably shorter sentence. That move appalled Democrats and former federal prosecutors, who called it political interference in a criminal case. Attorney General Bill Barr, meanwhile, defended the move but told ABC News that Trump’s tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job.
That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting. And it certainly didn’t temper Trump’s enthusiasm for using his wholly unfettered presidential pardon power.
Sam Nunberg, another former Trump campaign staffer who also counts himself as a Stone ally, said the president’s clemency moves gave him hope for Stone.
“It would be a teachable moment for advocates of Roger—that he should be pardoned—if the president doesn’t pardon him,” Nunberg told The Daily Beast. “They can see the kind of loyalty the president really has. The president will be a complete hypocrite if Roger spends a second in jail.”
And Randy Credico, an ex-associate of Stone’s who testified in his trial and later urged Judge Jackson not to sentence him to prison, also said he saw the moves as Trump foreshadowing a pardon.
“This is him saying, ‘Look, I’m going to do it,’ and he puts it right into your face,” Credico told The Daily Beast. “Trump is scary, man.”
While Credico asked the judge to keep Stone out of prison, he also said he’s appalled by Trump and Barr pointing to that request to criticize the sentencing recommendation of the career prosecutors.
“These are the type of guys that any defense attorney would want as a prosecutor, because they did not cheat, they did not fudge, they just did their job and methodically went through with it,” he said. “So for Trump to give these guys a bum rap and then Barr gave them the bum’s rush—these guys are two fucking bums to do that, because you are besmirching and smearing four career civil servants.”
Meanwhile, members of Congress are closely monitoring the saga.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, praised Trump’s record on criminal justice reform and said he shouldn’t be blamed for politicizing the Justice Department’s process.
“The investigation was political, the indictment was political, the arrest—they tipped CNN off and perp-walked him in front of a SWAT team—was political, the trial was political, and the sentencing was political,” he said. “But somehow Trump is the one who made this all political?”
But Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat who worked as an impeachment manager, called Trump’s pardons deeply concerning.
“The president is testing the waters of authoritarianism,” she told The Daily Beast in a statement. “The justice system cannot become a sword and shield for the powerful and well-connected. I hope that every American will raise their voices and join us to end these abuses before it is too late.”
And Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat who also serves on House Judiciary, said she wasn’t sure if Trump’s series of pardons and commutations was meant as a message.
“I don’t know if that’s a signal,” she said. “Certainly everything this president does is a signal to his friends of how he views the rule of law: He just has no regard for the rule of law. He has shown through his behaviors and direct actions last week that he has no regard for the independence of the Department of Justice. But that’s been shown all along; this is not new.”
One of the pardons Trump issued Tuesday, for “junk-bonds king” Michael Milken, came just a few days after a Milken associate hosted a lavish $10 million fundraiser for Trump in Palm Beach. The associate, Nelson Peltz, reportedly expressed support for pardoning Milken.
Caputo said he believes Trump’s base would support a pardon for Stone as well, noting that “the recent announcements of unrelated pardons to us shows that he doesn’t fear the typical political ramifications of exercising his power of pardon before an election.”