Trump friend, ally Roger Stone convicted of lying to Congress
WASHINGTON (CN) — Roger Stone can now add convicted felon to the list of colorful monikers he’s collected over decades in Washington, besides dirty trickster, political provocateur and longtime Trump adviser.
A federal jury found Stone guilty on all seven felony counts that he lied to Congress, obstructed its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and tampered with a key witness.
The conviction included five false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, including that Stone never discussed WikiLeaks releasing Russian-hacked emails with the Trump campaign.
The verdict is a sweeping victory for the Justice Department in the final criminal case filed against a Trump ally by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Asked if he had comment while exiting the D.C. federal courthouse, Stone said “none whatsoever.” Stone, and his attorneys, remain under a court-imposed gag order.
Federal prosecutors told the jury at the outset of the trial, unfolding down the street from Capitol Hill where televised impeachment hearings got underway this week, that Stone lied because “the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”
The president weighed in over Twitter, questioning whether the unanimous verdict was a “double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country?”
Facing a maximum sentence of 50 years, Stone, 67, is expected to get off with a more lenient prison term as a first-time offender.
A political strategist who cut his teeth during the Watergate scandal, Stone joins other convicted Trump insiders to serve time for crimes uncovered by Mueller’s two-year investigation: Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are currently behind bars, while Michael Flynn and Rick Gates await sentencing after pleading guilty.
The 12-person jury, nine women and three men, included an IRS civil tax attorney, a senior adviser for AARP and a former congressional candidate. They disappeared behind closed doors midmorning Thursday but failed to reach a verdict, dragging deliberations into Friday.
Stone was seen entering the courthouse Friday morning carrying a red Bible. Standing as the verdict was read aloud, in a pinstriped suit with a blue and white polka dot tie, the defendant was stone-faced.
But moments later security officers escorted Michael Caputo out of court when the former Trump campaign aide refused to stand, then turned his back to the jury as they exited the room.
The Justice Department looked to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to remand Stone’s conditions of release, placing him behind bars to await sentencing in February 2020.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis told the judge that she had reason to believe Stone would defy court orders because he allegedly violated his gag order by texting InfoWars host Alex Jones the day before.
The far-right conspiracy theorist claimed Stone contacted him Thursday telling Jones that he expected to be convicted and appealing for Trump to pardon him. Stone’s attorney, Bruce Rogow, told Jackson he had “no personal knowledge of the incident” but said his client was prepared to abide by her orders.
The prosecutor reminded Jackson that Stone had repeatedly failed to adhere to the gag order, triggered by Stone posting a photo of the judge to Instagram with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun behind her head. Jackson in past proceedings had described his continued social media posts on the case as “middle school” behavior.
The judge sent Stone, his legal team and family home still prohibited under the court order from making public statements on the case, saying she continued to have “serious concerns” about the publicity engulfing the trial.
“Its purpose was to ensure the safety of members of the community associated with the case,” Jackson said.
But the Barack Obama appointee, known in Washington to be even-handed, said despite the “rough start” in the months leading up to trial, she would reject the government’s request, adding there was no proof of evidence for Jones’ on-air statements.
“I am still willing to give [Stone] the benefit of the doubt and let him go home to await sentencing,” Jackson said.
Stone’s trial proved to be a drama-infused proceeding. Mention of his die-hard fandom for Richard Nixon — Stone has the Watergate president’s face tattooed on his back — surfaced during jury selection.
Alt-right activist Milo Yianapolous routinely took a seat in the front row. Right-wing blogger Jacob Wohl — known for promoting smear campaigns including false sexual assault allegation against Mueller — walked the halls as the jury weighed Stone’s fate behind closed doors and was present for the verdict.
The trial, with one week of testimony, revealed information redacted from the special counsel’s report. From the witness stand, top Trump campaign aide Rick Gates contradicted the president’s claim to Mueller that he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.
“I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign,” Trump said in written statements to the special counsel’s office, adding he had “no recollection of the specifics of any conversations” with Stone in the six months leading up to Election Day.
But Gates testified that he saw Stone’s name flash on Trump’s caller I.D. while riding in a Suburban with the then-candidate to LaGuardia Airport.
Trump “indicated that more information would be coming” just 30 second after hanging up the call with Stone, Gates testified.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon also appeared in court to testify under subpoena, telling the jury the Trump campaign considered Stone to be its “access point” to WikiLeaks.
The jury found Stone guilty of falsely testifying to Congress that he never discussed his WikiLeaks intermediary with anyone on the Trump campaign, reinforcing the impact testimony from Gates and Bannon could have on Trump.
“The Godfather Part II” never hit the courtroom screen, with Judge Jackson rejecting the request from federal prosecutors to submit a four-minute scene as evidence.
Mob talk, nonetheless, filtered into the courtroom. The Justice Department introduced texts as evidence of witness tampering where Stone tells radio show host Randy Credico to “do his Frank Pentangeli,” reference to a character in the iconic film who feigns ignorance when called to testify to a congressional committee.
Stone was charged with lying to the committee on Sep. 26, 2017 that in 2016 he had only one go-between to WikiLeaks head Julian Assange, who he later named in a letter as Credico.
Prosecutors argued Stone offered Credico as a cover to hide that his true inroad to Assange was Obama-birther conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi — then threatened Credico to block him from testifying to Congress and later to Mueller.
“Waste of your time–tell [Mueller] to go fuck himself,” Stone texted Credico on Jan. 25, 2018.
The defense argued the communications were evidence only of the strange relationship between the two men. But Credico testified that he was desperate to get out from under the bombardment of nasty stories, emails and texts from Stone. “Prepare to die,” Stone was texting him by April 2018.
That same month Stone said he was going to take away Credico’s Coton de Tulear, named Bianca. “Not a fucking thing you can do about it either because you are a weak broke piece of shit. I will prove to the world you’re a liar.”
Credico told the jury that he eventually took the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying. “I can’t work on his level. He plays hardball. He throws a lot of junk and I did not want to get hit.”
Presented with dozens of the over 1,500 texts and email Stone sent Credico, many heavily strung with expletives, the jury unanimously agreed that the defendant was guilty of witness tampering.
They also found Stone guilty of falsely testifying that Credico was his only inroad to Assange.
Back on July 25, 2016 Stone had emailed Corsi telling him to “Get to Assange At Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending wikileaks emails.”
The following week, a dispatch from Corsi predicts key details on the upcoming WikiLeaks releases of Russian-hacked documents: two dumps, one in October 2016, including damaging emails on Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
“That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke,” Corsi emailed Stone on Aug. 2, 2016.
Under oath, Stone told Congress that his six public statements in August 2016 foretelling the WikiLeaks releases was nothing more than a coincidence.
Stone was not charged with going after information on the WikiLeaks dumps that published tens of thousands of Russian-hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Podesta’s personal email.
The jury found Stone guilty on the charge that he falsely testified that he possessed no documents that referred to Assange, including texts or emails with his claimed intermediary. Prosecutors handed the 12 jurors a trove of emails and texts as evidence, obtained by the FBI, littered with mentions of the WikiLeaks head.
“I just want to be certain because you are under oath … that you have no documents, no emails, no texts, no tweets that refer to Julian Assange or Guccifer 2 or Paul Manafort or the allegations concerning Russian connections with the campaign,” House Democrat Adam Schiff asked Stone during his testimony to Congress in 2017.
“In connection with Russian collusion, consistent with your exact and precise request, yes,” Stone said. The defense built up the response two years later as the pillar of defense in his case, arguing that WikiLeaks was outside the scope of the committee’s investigation.
But the argument was largely undercut by the prosecution routinely countering the claim with Stone’s own opening remarks to the committee, stating the hearing was “largely based on yet-unproven allegations that the Russian state is responsible for the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta and the transfer of that information to WikiLeaks.”
Stone waived the right to testify near the close of his one-week trial. Instead, in a move that allowed the jury to hear the defendant’s voice without exposing Stone to cross-examination, his attorneys played portions of the audio recording from his congressional testimony.
After 50 minutes of Stone’s recorded voice resounding in the courtroom — along with voices recognizable to D.C. politicos as belonging to Schiff as well as fellow Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell and Republican Trey Gowdy — the defense called no witnesses, and rested its case.
Urging the jury to find Stone innocent, his attorney Bruce Rogow said the defendant had no motive to lie.
“The campaign was long since over and Mr. Trump was the president of the United States,” Rogow said. “There was no sensible reason at that point to lie to cover up.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando took issue with Rogow arguing, “So what?”
“I know we live in a world nowadays, with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any view,” Marando said. “However, in our institutions of self-governance, courts of law or committee hearings, where people under oath have to testify, truth still matters.”