Roger Stone, the Republican political operative who famously predicted a dump of embarrassing documents on the Clinton campaign in 2016, got his first glimpse on Tuesday of the jurors who’ll decide whether he lied to a congressional committee about his communications with WikiLeaks.
The sometime confidant of President Donald Trump also gave the jury pool its first look at him, uncharacteristically silent as he entered the Washington courtroom. The judge has repeatedly ordered Stone, who is given to flights of soaring, sometimes profane rhetoric, not to comment publicly on the case.
Stone, the last person indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the presidential election, faces three felony charges — lying to the committee, obstructing its investigation of Russia’s meddling, and tampering with a witness. The last and most serious charge could send him to prison for years if he is convicted.
During the final four months of the election, WikiLeaks published thousands of documents stolen from Democratic Party computers, allegedly by Russian intelligence agents, to hobble Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Stone, 67, isn’t accused of playing a role in the hacking, but of concealing communications he had with WikiLeaks and its principal, Julian Assange, through two intermediaries, conservative author Jerome Corsi and radio host Randy Credico. He’s also accused of threatening Credico about contradicting his story.
Tuesday’s jury selection was derailed almost as soon as it began when an onlooker became ill and collapsed, requiring medical attention. The courtroom was cleared, halting the proceedings for about half an hour.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson and lawyers for both sides questioned four prospective panelists before breaking for lunch at noon. All four said they were employed by the federal government. Two are lawyers, one at the Internal Revenue Service, the other at the Securities and Exchange Commission, both in noncriminal capacities.
Defense attorney Robert Buschel moved to strike the last two. Jackson said no, holding that working for the government alone wasn’t grounds for disqualification for bias at a trial in the nation’s capital.
“Trump is the chief executive of the federal government,” she added.
After the break, the judge did excuse one of the participants — the defendant himself, who apologized to the court for what he thought was probably food poisoning and said his lawyers could carry on without him for the afternoon. Dressed in a starched pink shirt and glen plaid suit with pocket square, the usually unflappable Stone had mopped his brow and motioned for water in the morning.
At a pretrial conference Monday, Stone’s lawyers offered a glimpse of the defenses they might use, renewing their efforts to challenge assertions in Mueller’s final report, even though Jackson has said they can’t put the report on trial. They’ve also hinted they may stress the context in which the committee’s questions to Stone arose — in the course of its own probe of Russian interference — and whether Stone’s alleged falsehoods were material to the panel’s work.
“Materiality, for purposes of the false-statements statute, is extremely broad, which makes it, in my opinion, too easy for the government,” former federal prosecutor Ken White said in a recent interview about the case. “All they have to prove is that it is the sort of information that could have made some difference in the course of action the government would have taken, whether or not it actually did.”
Also on Monday, Jackson made public the juror questionnaire she and attorneys for both sides used to pre-screen the field, checking for those whose connections to one side or the other, or to potential witnesses, could prevent them from fairly considering the evidence.
Those who make the cut will hear about, or from, Trump, Clinton, Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, Assange, Corsi, Trump’s onetime political strategist Steve Bannon, his 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s top deputy, Rick Gates.
On Tuesday morning, about 80 potential jurors milled about in the corridor, called by number and admitted one at a time as the public and the press watched the courtroom fill up. Twelve will be chosen, plus two alternates.
Opening arguments will probably come Wednesday, Jackson has said. On Tuesday she estimated the trial will take about three weeks.
The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).