WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr and chief of staff Mark Meadows, among other White House officials, were opposed to commuting Roger Stone’s prison sentence and were outraged by President Donald Trump’s decision to do so Friday night, sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The opposition was fueled by concerns that Trump could face significant political blowback and could be seen as abusing his presidential power — a risk the president cannot afford to take as he continues to trail former Vice President Joe Biden in the national polls and in key battle ground states, raising red flags for his re-election chances.
Trump was warned of these vulnerabilities, according to one of the people familiar with the discussions, who said the president was told “it was a big mistake.”
Barr discussed Stone’s sentence with Trump and recommended clemency not be offered, according to multiple sources, and other White House officials, including Meadows, also advised the president against the commutation.
When asked about why the president would flout the advice of top advisers, one of the sources said the president believed Stone was treated unfairly by prosecutors and that the Russia investigation was an illegitimate “witch hunt.”
Trump’s decision to ignore the advice of those arounds him was also rooted in the president’s belief that his base would not disapprove of his decision to commute Stone.
“There are senior advisers around him who are telling him your base wants you to build the wall and drain the swamp and never said ‘pardon Roger Stone,’” according to one of the sources.
The announcement of Stone’s clemency sparked concern among some who viewed it as emblematic of the lack of control that those close to the president have on Trump’s decision making process, including his legal team.
The White House announced Friday evening that Trump commuted the prison sentence of Stone, a former campaign aide, sparing his longtime adviser from having to report to prison next week.
Stone was sentenced in February to three years, four months in federal prison for obstructing a congressional investigation of Russia’s 2016 presidential election meddling. After the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, he was given an extension on reporting to prison. He had been on home confinement in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Stone, 67, had been calling for a pardon or clemency on social media for weeks and Trump did little to dissuade his lobbying efforts, repeatedly telling reporters that it was something he was considering. Trump hinted that clemency or a pardon was in the works when he retweeted a petition to pardon Stone at the end of June.
Lauren Egan contributed.