Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence following concerted campaign by Fox News and Infowars

Roger Stone smears Fiona Hill

President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of his longtime confidant and friend Roger Stone after Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and other crimes in what prosecutors said was a bid to protect Trump. Stone had been sentenced to 40 months in prison in February by a federal judge. Following legal wrangling over when Stone would have to report to prison, he was ordered to begin home confinement on June 26 and report to prison by July 14. He will now avoid serving any of his sentence in prison. 

During a substantial portion of Stone’s legal proceedings, he was prohibited from publicly discussing his case because of several actions he took to undermine his prosecution, including posting a threatening image of the judge who oversees his case, Amy Berman Jackson, on social media. But in April, after Stone lost his bid for a new trial, the gag order was lifted.

In the months leading up to Trump's announcement, Stone made a number of appearances at conservative media outlets where he disputed the verdict against him and pleaded for a pardon or a commutation. In recent days, Stone offered Trump an incentive to grant him clemency during several media appearances, saying that if Trump did so, he would be a more effective advocate for the president in the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump’s commutation follows a two-pronged effort in conservative media to absolve Stone of responsibility for his crimes. Stone previously worked as a host at Infowars, which has sought to undermine the case against its former employee every step of the way. And the propagandists on Fox News who often have Trump's ear have been loudly calling for clemency for Stone for months, a gambit that clearly got the president’s attention as he repeatedly amplified their commentary on Twitter.

Stone was arrested in January 2019 and charged with seven federal crimes: five counts of lying to Congress, one count of obstructing an official proceeding, and one count of witness tampering. The charges arose from then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in 2016 elections and focused on claims Stone made to Congress about his knowledge of plans by WikiLeaks to release hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. As prosecutors alleged at trial, Stone’s lies to Congress were meant to shield Trump because the truth “would look really bad.”

In addition to being a confidant to Trump and a political “dirty trickster,” Stone has been a mainstay in conservative media, including working as a host in recent years for Alex Jones’ far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. That platform attempted to interfere with the trial proceedings against Stone. Before Stone was even arrested, Infowars was already conducting a publicity campaign to pin any WikiLeaks-related wrongdoing on conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who was also under investigation by the special counsel’s office and had also worked for Infowars but had fallen out of favor. 

After Stone was arrested, he used his Infowars platform -- which he described as “vital” to his defense strategy -- to publicly litigate his case (he has since left the outlet). When Stone was hit with an expanded gag order after he posted an image to social media that seemed to threaten Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was overseeing Stone’s trial, Infowars figures picked up the slack. Most notably was Infowars’ head Alex Jones, who repeatedly attempted to interfere with the administration of justice in Stone’s trial. 

While jury selection was underway in Stone’s November trial, Jones, aided by Stone’s assistant Jacob Engels, attempted to out the identities of jurors during broadcasts of The Alex Jones Show while making wild allegations that the jurors were “minions” in a conspiracy against Stone. According to trial transcript, Jackson found that Jones’ actions put “the safety of all the people associated with this case, on both sides, and including, possibly, the jurors, at risk.” Also, before the jury even reached a verdict, Jones broadcast a message from Stone asking Trump to pardon him. Jackson asked prosecutors to brief the court on whether that action violated Stone’s gag order and prosecutors did include the incident in their sentencing memo that called for prison time for Stone. Jones has also claimed to have inside information about deliberations at the White House over whether Stone should be pardoned, claiming during his February 11 broadcast that it had already been decided that Stone would eventually receive one. Post-conviction, Jones continued his attacks on Jackson, in one instance telling her to “fill your hand, politically” -- a reference to picking up a firearm to use in a gun battle. 

In addition to efforts by Infowars and other parts of conservative media, Fox News also waged a campaign to seek clemency for Stone. Hours after he was convicted of all the charges against him on November 15, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested that Stone should be pardoned, calling the outcome of the trial a “travesty.” According to reporting from The Daily Beast, the position of Carlson’s show “as a platform for pro-Stone messaging is potent enough that Trump allies who seek leniency for Stone have specifically sought to appear on the Fox News show in order to get the message to the president.” Sources close to the president told The Daily Beast that Trump watches segments about Stone on the show and discusses them with others. While Stone was under a gag order prohibiting him from discussing his case, he made an October appearance on Infowars in which he praised Carlson and other hosts at Fox News in general terms. 

After Stone was sentenced on February 20, that night Carlson called for Trump to “pardon Stone immediately,” while bemoaning the fact that “apparently there are people around the president telling him not to pardon Roger Stone or to wait until after the election.” After Stone’s gag order was lifted in April, one of his first stops was on Carlson’s show, where he claimed that going to prison would be “essentially a death sentence.” Other figures at Fox who have taken up Stone’s cause include Sean Hannity, Jesse Waters, Fox News contributor Mike HuckabeeLou Dobbs, and Fox correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera.  

The drumbeat on Fox News appeared to have worked, as the network’s coverage of Stone became fodder for the president’s Twitter account:

Additionally, on June 27, Trump promoted an article calling for Stone’s pardon written by Tom Pappert at his conspiracy theory website National File. Pappert is a frequent Infowars guest host and his show is available for streaming at Infowars’ platform 

Judge Amy Jackson noticed the efforts by Infowars and Carlson on behalf of Stone and it influenced the course of the criminal proceedings. During a February 25 hearing for a motion from Stone for a retrial, “Jackson read the President's tweet attacking the Stone jury forewoman, as well as commentary from InfoWars' Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson from Fox News, to a federal courtroom, in deciding to hear testimony from jurors while protecting their identities after Stone asked for a retrial,” CNN reported.

Stone is the latest beneficiary of the Fox News pardon pipeline, which has been linked to more than a dozen clemency grants. Media Matters’ Matt Gertz has written extensively on the phenomenon in which “people accused of or convicted of federal crimes and their family members and lawyers have descended on the network over the past few years, using the president’s favorite programs to plead their case to him directly.”

Trump’s commutation of Stone's sentence indicates a new chapter in the phenomenon: Not only will Fox News egg on Trump in capriciously wielding his clemency power -- often in support of his political allies -- but also in instances where the crime at hand was an effort to cover up the president’s own wrongdoing.