Trump friend Roger Stone denied new trial by judge

Roger Stone arrives for his sentencing at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington, DC on February, 20, 2020.

Marvin Joseph | The Washington Post | Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a new trial by President Donald Trump friend Roger Stone, who was convicted last fall of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Stone, 67, had sought a new trial based on his allegation that the jury forewoman committed misconduct by lying on a questionnaire as the panel was being selected.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson‘s denial of that motion sets the stage for the Republican political operative to soon begin serving a 40-month prison term within the next two weeks.

Jackson had suspended that sentence from taking effect until she ruled on the motion for a new trial.

“The defendant must surrender for service of his sentence at the institution designated by the Bureau of Prisons at such time as he is notified by the U.S. Probation or Pretrial Services Office, but no earlier than fourteen days after the date of this order,” Jackson wrote in an order Thursday.

Trump has not ruled out pardoning Stone, a Florida resident who has for decades embraced a public persona of a dirty political trickster.

The president has repeatedly criticized the prosecution of Stone, who was charged in the case by then-special counsel Robert Mueller.

Stone was convicted last fall in U.S. District Court in Washington of seven felony counts.

Jurors found that he lied to a House committee about his discussions with members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The talks related to Stone’s efforts to get information from the document disclosure group WikiLeaks about emails stolen by Russian agents from John Podesta, the head of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and from the Democratic National Committee.

The emails were made public by WikiLeaks in 2016. Disclosures of their contents embarrassed Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.

Jurors also found that Stone had threatened his associate Randy Credico, a New York comedian, in an effort to get Credico to back up his misstatements to the House committee.

In February, as Stone’s sentencing date approached, a controversy erupted over Trump’s public statements about the case, and over the involvement in the case of Attorney General William Barr.

The uproar led directly to Stone’s request for a new trial.

Four prosecutors who handled Stone’s trial filed a sentencing recommendation in mid-February with Jackson, urging her to impose a prison term of seven to nine years.

Hours after the filing, Trump blasted the recommendation on Twitter.

And hours after the tweet, the Justice Department, under Barr’s direction, indicated that a new sentencing recommendation for Stone would be filed.

The recommendation called for Stone to receive a prison term that would be “far less” than the original filing by trial prosecutors. The revised filing did not specify a length of time that Stone should be locked up.

All four trial prosecutors quit the case the day the new filing was made, in apparent protest of being overruled by Barr. One of the prosecutors resigned from the Justice Department altogether.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department employees, among them ex-top prosecutors and department officials, signed a letter calling on Barr to resign for overruling his line prosecutors in apparent reaction to Trump’s ire.

Barr denied that his decision to overrule the first sentencing recommendation was in response to pressure from Trump.

On the heels of that action, the forewoman in Stone’s trial jury, Tomeka Hart, posted a message on her Facebook page that was supportive of the four trial prosecutors.

“I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis — the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” Hart wrote in her post. “It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.”

After an article about Hart’s post was published, Mike Cernovich, a right-wing commentator, found and highlighted other social media posts that Hart had made which were critical of Trump and which, in at least one instance, referenced Stone’s arrest in early 2019.

Stone then filed a motion seeking a new trial, claiming that Hart had committed misconduct.

Stone’s lawyers argued in court papers that Hart “misled the Court regarding her ability to be unbiased and fair and the juror attempted to cover up evidence that would directly contradict her false claims of impartiality.”

At a hearing on that issue, Hart testified that she did not read news accounts or Twitter posts about the trial when she was serving on the case, and denied deleting any posts she had made on social media.

She also testified that she gave an “honest answer” on her jury questionnaire when it asked whether she had ever posted anything on social media about Stone. Hart had written that she was unsure if she had made such a post.

She had, in fact, retweeted an article that mentioned him shortly after his arrest.

“That was the honest answer on Sept. 12. That’s why I didn’t check yes or no,” Hart testified.

Stone’s lawyers admitted at that hearing that neither they, nor jury consultants retained by the defense team, had done a search for social media posts by Hart and other jurors before the trial began.

“I think it’s a regular practice by trial lawyers these days to Google individuals on the jury panel list, wouldn’t you agree?” Jackson asked in a pointed question to one of Stone’s attorneys during the hearing.

Stone’s attorneys had not objected to Hart being seated on the jury despite her having run for Congress as a Democrat in Tennessee.

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