US President Donald Trump on Friday commuted the prison sentence of his longtime ally Roger Stone, shielding the veteran Republican operative from 40 months behind bars.
"Roger Stone is now a free man!" the White House said in a statement, days before he was to report to a federal prison to start serving his term.
Trump's act is certain to renew charges that the president intervenes in the US justice system to help friends and allies and punish critics and perceived enemies.
Stone, one of Trump's oldest confidants, was convicted last November of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to help him win the 2016 election.
The fiery White House statement reiterated Trump's charge that Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigated an alleged crime that was never committed. It argued that Stone should therefore never have been charged in the first place.
"The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr Stone would not be facing time in prison," it said.
The Trump administration had already intervened once to help Stone. After prosecutors recommended a prison term of seven to nine years, Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been accused of acting like Trump's personal lawyer, stepped in and called that excessive.
All four prosecutors handling the case quit it and a newly appointed prosecutor recommended a prison term of three to four years for Stone.
Stone was the sixth aide of Trump -- who was impeached last year for abusing his power -- to be convicted of charges arising from Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.
Critics responded quickly after Trump commuted Stone's sentence.
Senator Kamala Harris of California noted that Stone, who is white, is now walking free while police officers in Kentucky accused of killing a black health worker in her home have not been arrested or charged.
"The two systems of justice in this country must end," Harris tweeted.