SALT LAKE CITY — Senator Mitt Romney took aim at President Donald Trump’s commutation of longtime advisor Roger Stone’s prison sentence with a Saturday morning tweet.
“Unprecedented, historic corruption,” Romney’s tweet reads. “An American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
The disavowal was a prominent and largely-isolated Republican critique of the president’s actions among the GOP and joins the statements of multiple national Democrats who view the commutation as unprecedented presidential interference in the justice system.
Romney’s tweet quickly went viral, amassing nearly 600,000 likes at the time of writing and soaring to the second-most trending national topic on Twitter Saturday morning.
Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 11, 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called out the president, labeling his action "an act of staggering corruption" and linking to an official statement that vowed, "Congress will take action to prevent this type of brazen wrongdoing. 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."
Joe Biden also joined the fray with a retweet of his 2019 statement: "Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Roger Stone. Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people who flout our laws — we shouldn’t be surprised that he thinks he is above the law. We deserve better as a country." With the retweet, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate added just two words: "Still true."
The president responded to the allegations on Twitter, taking another swipe at the Mueller investigation which resulted in convictions for six of Trump's aides and advisors with the thus-far unsubstantiated claim, "Roger Stone was 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!"
Roger Stone was 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2020
The chairman of the United Utah Party, Richard Davis, issued a press release defending Romney's stance, saying, "Senator Romney has done the right thing in speaking out against President Trump's misuse of his pardon power. This is certainly not what the Framers of our Constitution had in mind when they gave the pardon power to the executive. It was not intended for cronyism."
Davis called on the rest of Utah's delegation to decry the commutation, calling it "a wonder" that Romney spoke out against the administration, and that one other Utah officials had. He also encouraged the Utah delegation to pitch a Constitutional Amendment which would curtail presidential power, saying, "Congress should be given the power to override a presidential pardon with a two-thirds majority. That would check the president in egregious cases and make a president think twice about abusing this constitutional power."
Like Romney, former Congressman Mark Sanford, who briefly ran against Trump in the primary, stated, "So much for the Republican Party being the party of law and order. Have we not lost our minds in not condemning as a party the president’s corruption by Roger Stone.”
Some Republicans, like Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey, attempted to balance criticism and commendation. “While I understand the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation, in my view, commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is a mistake,” Toomey's statement reads. "He was duly convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing a congressional investigation conducted by a Republican-led committee."
Trump replied to the critiques from his fellow Republicans with a late Saturday tweet that reads, "Do RINO’S Pat Toomey & Mitt Romney have any problem with the fact that we caught Obama, Biden, & Company illegally spying on my campaign? Do they care if Comey, McCabe, Page & her lover, Peter S, the whole group, ran rampant, wild & unchecked - lying & leaking all the way? NO!"
Do RINO’S Pat Toomey & Mitt Romney have any problem with the fact that we caught Obama, Biden, & Company illegally spying on my campaign? Do they care if Comey, McCabe, Page & her lover, Peter S, the whole group, ran rampant, wild & unchecked - lying & leaking all the way? NO!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2020
As the vast majority of the GOP remained silent on the action, some spoke out in Trump's favor. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, "In my view it would be justified if President Donald Trump decided to commute Roger Stone's prison sentence. Mr. Stone is in his 70s and this was a non-violent, first-time offense." Graham added: "Equally important: over time we learn how biased and corrupt Crossfire Hurricane and the Mueller probes were."
Roger Stone was found guilty of seven charges, including lying to Congress about his contact with WikiLeak founder Julian Assange during the 2016 election and witness tampering amid the Mueller investigation.
Originally recommended to serve seven to nine years behind bars by prosecutors, Attorney General Barr intervened following a tweet by the president recommending a lenient punishment and reduced the recommendation to 40 months. It was a highly unusual political move that caused internal conflict within the U.S Department of Justice.
Stone was vocal in asking for a pardon or commutation and had asked for a postponement of his surrender date after a brief extension was granted by a judge. A commutation does not erase charges or convictions, unlike a pardon, but does prevent the person from serving time in prison. Trump's senior advisors previously talked the president out of granting Stone clemency, arguing it would be politically self-destructive and reward Stone's illegal actions. Trump is still considering clemency for former national security advisor Michael Flynn and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The Trump administration has been aggressive in attempting to reclaim the narrative of the Mueller investigation, though, arguing that individuals have been held to a different standard than Democrats and that his associates have been mistreated by prosecutors. The president has also granted clemency to the sentences of multiple other conservative allies charged with crimes.
KSL received an emailed statement from Trump’s Press Secretary stating, “Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”
The statement reasserted that the Trump campaign never colluded with Russia and the Mueller investigation had no purpose, leaving Democrats to charge Stone for his conduct amid the investigation instead.
“Not only was Mr. Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursuing a case that never should have existed, and arrested in an operation that never should have been approved, but there were also serious questions about the jury in the case,” the statement reads.
Per the Associated Press, Stone called the president on Friday to thank him for the commutation as he celebrated in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with conservative friends and champagne.
Contributing: The Associated Press