Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone lied to Congress about his efforts to connect with WikiLeaks in the 2016 presidential campaign because the "truth looked bad for Donald Trump," a federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
In his opening statement in Stone's trial on lying and obstruction charges, prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said the case wasn't about who hacked the Democratic National Committee, or who communicated with Russians.
"This case is about Roger Stone’s false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to obstruct the investigation and to tamper with evidence,” Zelinsky told the jury in Washington, D.C. federal court.
Stone had claimed he had no records "of any kind" of attempts to reach out to WikiLeaks. In reality, "you will hear that he had hundreds of texts, emails" with two people he was using as intermediaries, Zelinsky said.
Stone also claimed he hadn't discussed his efforts with the Trump campaign — something that was refuted by his call records and texts and emails, the prosecutor said.
Zelinsky said Stone had called Trump hours after the DNC in June 2016 announced that Russians had hacked its systems. The first witness to testify, a former FBI agent named Michelle Taylor, said Stone had called Trump's home phone on the same day and got no answer. Less than an hour later, Trump called Stone twice from his cell phone. They spoke for about four and half minutes, Taylor testified.
They also spoke for 10 minutes after WikiLeaks began posting Democrats' emails online, Zelinsky said.
In written answers to questions from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump said he did not recall the specifics of any communications with Stone in the six months preceding the 2016 election.
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Prosecutors don't know what was said in either call, but shortly after the second one, Stone emailed one of his intermediaries, Jerome Corsi. Corsi told him, "word is our friend in the embassy" — a reference to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange — "plans two more dumps."
In another email, Stone urged Corsi to "get to Assange."
According to Zelinsky, Stone then emailed Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort with the subject line "I have an idea." The body of the email read, "To save Trump's ass," Zelinsky told the jury. Stone asked Manafort to call him, the prosecutor said.
Weeks later, Zelinsky said Stone sent an email to another campaign honcho, Steve Bannon, which read, "I do know how to win this, but it ain't pretty."
Bannon and former Manafort partner Rick Gates will both testify in the case, Zelinsky said.
The prosecutor said Stone pushed another of his intermediaries, Randy Credico, to lie to investigators — and threatened his dog if he didn't comply.
Zelinsky said Stone lied to Congress and tried to obstruct the investigation because "the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump."
Stone's lawyer, Bruce Rogow, defended his client by saying Stone was caught off guard when Congress asked him about WikiLeaks instead of contacts with Russians. "We think that there was no corrupt intent in what Mr. Stone said," Rogow said.
He also suggested Stone was duped by his associates.
"These people were playing Mr. Stone. Mr. Stone took the bait," Rogow said.
He also insisted that Stone was kidding around with the threats to Credico, including when Stone urged him to "do a Frank Pentangeli." That's a reference to a character in "The Godfather: Part II" who is pressured to lie to a congressional committee to avoid implicating the head of the fictional Corleone crime family. Pentangeli lies on the stand and then kills himself afterward.
Rogow said it was an inside joke, and noted that Credico "is an impressionist" and Pentangeli is among the characters he does.
Prosecutors had sought to show the scene from the movie during the trial, but the judge denied the request.
It wasn't the only "Godfather" reference of the day. In a text that was shown to the jury, Credico said that Trump rival Hillary Clinton was "scary" and compared her to Luca Brasi, an enforcer for the Corleone family.
Taylor testified that Stone had asked Credico to reach out to Assange and WikiLeaks a half-dozen times. The U.S. intelligence community has said that WikiLeaks was acting as an agent for the Russian operatives behind the DNC hack.
Stone was spotted having lunch on Wednesday afternoon with right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos during a break between the opening statements.