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Roger Stone, former campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at U.S. District Court, in Washington, on Nov. 6, 2019.Tom Brenner/Reuters

Roger Stone, the political operative convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign, denied on Monday night that he withheld incriminating information about the president before receiving clemency keeping him out of prison.

In his first television interview since Trump commuted his sentence Friday night, Stone said he had been misinterpreted when he said he had refused “to play Judas” against the president. Instead, he said investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller wanted him to “bear false witness” against Trump.

“I would not lie against my friend of 40 years so they could use it for impeachment,” Stone said on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. “They wanted me to be the ham in their ham sandwich because they knew the Mueller report, particularly on Russia, was a dud. It was a goose egg. They had nothing.”

The president’s decision to erase Stone’s 40-month prison sentence has generated a gale of criticism from Democrats and some Republicans who have accused him of using his clemency power to reward an ally who lied to protect him. House Democrats vowed to investigate and pursue legislation barring Trump from issuing pardons or commutations to people who engage in a cover-up shielding from criminal prosecution, although such a measure would face constitutional hurdles and never be signed into law by Trump.

Stone was convicted of seven felonies, including lying to Congress and witness tampering, to impede an investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who presided over Stone’s trial, said at his sentencing that he “was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”

Trump commuted the sentence, arguing that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and that Stone was treated unfairly. In his two-page order, released Monday, Trump also erased the two years of supervised release and $20,000 fine imposed by Jackson and ordered him released from home detention.

In the hours before the commutation Friday, Stone said Trump knew he could count on him. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,” Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman. “It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”

In his Fox interview, Stone said that did not mean he knew something that he refused to tell investigators. “When I said that, people said: ‘Ah, you see? Stone had the goods on Trump and he traded his silence for commutation,’” he said. “That is patently false. I never said that. I never implied that.”

Stone denounced the “horrific” prosecutors, calling one of them the “dirtiest of Mueller’s dirty cops” and another a functionary with “all the charm of a North Korean prison guard.”

Stone, 67, who said he feared that he would die in prison because of a respiratory condition that would make him vulnerable to the coronavirus, expressed gratitude to Trump. “I have deep, deep affection for Donald Trump because I have known him 40 years,” he said. “He’s a man of great justice and fairness. He’s a man of enormous courage. I knew he would take some shots for this. But I think most people, most fair-minded people, understand he saved my life.”

While his penalty was wiped out, his conviction was not, and Stone said he was not sure if he would continue to appeal because if the guilty verdict was overturned, he would have to go on trial again before the same judge.

Trump defended his clemency order Monday, assailing the law enforcement officials who pursued Stone at a White House event called to celebrate law enforcement officials.

“I’m getting rave reviews for what I did for Roger Stone,” Trump said, attacking the prosecutors, judge and jury forewoman in the case. “He wasn’t given a fair trial.”

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