WASHINGTON (CN) — Hours after a federal judge sentenced Roger Stone to more than three years in prison, President Donald Trump took to the stage of a graduation ceremony for former prisoners Thursday and said his longtime friend and ally was treated unfairly by the courts.
“I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion,” Trump said during a commencement address at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
The president’s opining on the criminal prosecution follows a reversal by his Justice Department last week from initially recommending seven to nine years incarceration for Stone to proposing a lighter sentence.
The unprecedented move followed criticism from Trump that the original proposal was a “miscarriage of justice,” sparking cries from Democrats for investigations into political interference in the case.
But claiming that he is not going to act on the “great powers bestowed on the president,” Trump said he wants to see the case play out in court.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has agreed to defer the execution of Stone’s sentence, and to extend the time to file an appeal, until after resolving a motion for new trial filed last week by the defense.
The president praised Stone, convicted by a federal jury in November of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering, as a “smart guy” with a “fantastic family.”
But proffering claims disproved by evidence and witness testimony presented by his Justice Department at trial, Trump said that Stone was never involved in his 2016 campaign.
“Roger was never involved in the Trump campaign for president, he wasn’t involved,” Trump said Thursday. “I think early on long before I announced he may have done a little consulting work or something but he was not involved when I ran for president.”
With a trove of evidence presented with witness testimony from top Trump advisers, federal prosecutors outlined Stone’s routine communication with the campaign about Russian-hacked emails dumped by WikiLeaks that proved to be damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
FBI phone records map over 60 calls Stone made to Trump from January to November 2016, including a conversation on an upcoming WikiLeaks dump as the race heated up in the summer before Election Day.
Seemingly countering his statement just minutes earlier that he has no plans to act on the powers of the president to grant pardons, Trump said he will hold off on making a determination in the case.
“I am going to watch the process. I am going to watch it very closely and at some point I am going to make a determination,” the president said.
Dismissing that Stone lied to Congress, Trump claimed that former FBI Director James Comey and other former intelligence officials who typically fall under his incendiary attacks were guilty of the same wrongdoing.
But during Stone’s sentencing Thursday, Jackson took a firmer stance on the weight of his false testimony: “The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” the judge said.