Howard Fineman is an NBC News analyst and a RealClearPolitics contributing correspondent.
“I stood up,” Stone said. “I accepted Christ as my savior. I felt like a cement block had been lifted from my chest.” His newfound faith had given him a ticket to eternal salvation and, perhaps, a stay-out-of-jail card.
When Stone finished, he got on the line with me.
“I know there is a lot of skepticism,” he said in the audial version of a straight face. “Who knows? A year from now you may be calling me Reverend Stone! What else am I going to do with all these white suits I own?”
Like God, President Trump was merciful, Stone said. Trump was a man of “enormous fairness and compassion” and would lift the burden Stone was facing.
“I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period,” he reminded me. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”
And so, in the fullness of time — which is to say, about an hour later — the White House made official what Stone already knew: Trump was commuting Stone’s felony convictions for lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses. At 67, Stone would not have to report to a federal pen to serve his allotted 40 months.
No one can make up Roger Stone. No one should want to.
He has a certain roguish appeal to chroniclers of American politics, high and low. There is in his story a faint pathos: a youth suffused with some understandable resentments; an encyclopedic knowledge of what used to be the Republican Party; a sense that he could have done positive things with the talents he had — or as New Stone might say, with the talents God gave him.
But mostly he made his way and name for decades by not just defeating, but destroying and humiliating, other people for money — all in the name of dismantling a supposedly corrupt Establishment of better educated and, by and large, more decent and principled people than he could claim to be.
Trump’s decision to free Stone from having to serve a prison term — never really in doubt — was a foghorn blast of everything you need to know about the president and his administration. Whatever Stone had or hadn’t done or said, however controversial the trial, what mattered most was that he kept his mouth shut.
The reward was carefully choreographed.
The announcement was timed to first allow Attorney General William P. Barr to lift his pantlegs over the muck as he passed over the dirty road. He solemnly concluded that Stone’s convictions had been “righteous” and the sentence fair. But when asked whether Stone deserved pardon or commutation, Barr demurred, saying that was entirely up to Trump’s discretion.
And Trump then delivered. On Friday night, of course.
What does Stone, now sprung, do? He has no money; he and his wife have been through the mill. “You can’t imagine how hard this has been,” he said, as anyone who knows how the feds can squeeze you can understand.
Payback is possible, especially if Trump is reelected. His voice rising with indignation, Stone insisted to me that he had been set up by overly zealous federal prosecutors, a corrupt and biased federal judge and an all-Democrat jury.
He sounded as if Christian forgiveness might well be hard for him to manage.
“The old Roger Stone would be out for revenge. But I’ve changed. I know now that vengeance is something for God to decide.”
And, Stone surely hopes, Donald Trump.