Republican Senator Mitt Romney blasted U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday for commuting the prison sentence of Roger Stone, his longtime ally and political confidant, calling the move “unprecedented, historic corruption.”
“An American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” Romney wrote in a tweet.
Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison after he was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House of Representative’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.
He was expected to report to a prison in Georgia on Tuesday, until Trump signed an order to commute his sentence on Friday.
This is not the first time Romney has publicly criticized the president.
In February, the Utah Senator broke with the Republican party and voted in favour of convicting Trump on an impeachment charge.
He was the only Republican Senator to do so.
Speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Romney called Trump’s behaviour a “flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values.”
Democrats, Republicans react
“Congress will take action to prevent this type of brazen wrongdoing,” the statement reads. “Legislation is needed to ensure that no President can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that President from criminal prosecution.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer shared his criticism in a tweet on Friday, saying Stone’s commutation was a move to undermine the “American ideal of equal justice under the law” by a president who “regards the Justice Department as his personal plaything.”
“By refusing to hold President Trump accountable, the Republican Party bears responsibility for his lawlessness,” he wrote.
But, some Republicans have applauded Trump’s decision.
On Friday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted his support, saying in his view “it would be justified if President @realDonaldTrump decided to commute Roger Stone’s prison sentence.
“Mr. Stone is in his 70s and this was a non-violent, first time offense,” Graham wrote.
Although a commutation does not nullify Stone’s felony convictions, it protects him from serving prison time.
Speaking to media on Friday, Stone said under the terms of the commutation, he can now pursue two appeals he has filed relating to his conviction.
“One is an appeal of my conviction based on constitutional grounds, and other things that happened in the trial,” he said. “The other one is an appeal of the decision by Judge Jackson not to grant trial based on blatant egregious, indisputable juror misconduct on the part of the jury forewoman.”
He said Trump’s move came “literally in the nick of time,” because he will no longer be forced to go to prison amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My concern, as stated previously, was I’m confident I could win on appeal,” Stone said. “I believe I will expose an enormous amount of corruption in my trial on appeal, but I have to live long enough to get to the appeal, and at 67 years old, with a history of respiratory problems and other underlying health issues, the danger was very real.”
In a tweet Saturday morning, Trump said Stone had been “targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt” that “never should have taken place.”
“It is the other side that are criminals, including Biden and Obama, who spied on my campaign – AND GOT CAUGHT,” he wrote.”