President Trump said Tuesday two former associates convicted of crimes uncovered in the Russia probe received “very unfair” treatment, but would not say whether he would pardon them.
The president expressed empathy for former campaign adviser Roger Stone and ex-National Security Adviser Micheal Flynn in a Christmas Eve conference call with reporters.
Stone and Flynn are among the six former Trump aides or advisers to be convicted of charges growing out of the Russia probe.
He highlighted the case of Stone, a longtime GOP strategist, who was convicted last month of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and lying to Congress. Stone, 67, faces 50 years in prison when he is sentenced in February.
Stone was accused of lying to Congress about his efforts to learn more about WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“I think it is very tough what they did to Roger Stone compared to what they do to other people on their side,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats.
But the president said he had not thought about pardoning Stone for his crimes.
Mr. Trump also distanced himself from Stone, whom he has known for more than 30 years.
“You know, Roger Stone was not involved in my campaign in any way, other than the very, very beginning … long before I announced,” he said.
Stone officially left the campaign in summer 2015, but former campaign deputy Rick Gates testified that Stone was still involved. At Stone’s trial, Gates said he overheard a conversation between Stone and Trump in July 2016.
Mr. Trump compared Stone to Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying about having conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S. He will also be sentenced next year.
Flynn had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but his sentencing date has been repeatedly pushed back amid a shake-up on his legal team and accusations by his new attorney that the FBI acted improperly in his case.
“[Stone’s] a good person, and what they did to him was very unfair, in my opinion, and what they did to Gen. Flynn is very unfair in my opinion,” he said.
The president reminded reporters the Stone and Flynn convictions arose from the Russia probe, which he has repeatedly derided as “a witch hunt.”
Mr. Trump said “a lot of other people … got hit, very, very hard.”
“And now they are finding out it was all a big hoax. They’re finding out it was a horrible thing,” he said.
He also noted Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz uncovered a slew of mistakes and omissions and withheld evidence in the FBI’s warrant application to monitor campaign aide Carter Page.
“These were dirty people, these were bad people, these were evil people and I hope that someday I’m going to consider it my greatest or one of my greatest achievements, getting rid of them because we have no place in our country for people like that,” Mr. Trump said.
Another Trump campaign figure currently sitting in jail was not mentioned in the president’s phone call. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is serving more than seven years after being convicted of financial fraud last year.
Last week, a New York judge dismissed state charges against Manafort on double-jeopardy grounds. Manafort was accused of mortgage and financial fraud that paralleled some of the counts in his federal case.
The state charges would have ensured Manafort remained in prison even if Mr. Trump pardoned him. A presidential pardon can only absolve federal crimes, not state ones. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has vowed to appeal the decision.