Trump ally Roger Stone's trial to start this week

Stone was charged with misleading the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to find out when WikiLeaks would be releasing hacked Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails.
Image: Roger Stone arrives at District Court in Washington on Feb. 21, 2019.
Roger Stone arrives at District Court in Washington on Feb. 21, 2019.Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images file

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By Pete Williams

Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone, accused of lying to Congress and pressuring another person to do the same thing.

A Trump friend for more than 30 years who served as an adviser to his 2016 campaign, Stone has called himself the victim of a political prosecution. During the months leading up to the trial, he was repeatedly admonished by the judge to stop making public comments about the case that could influence the potential jury pool.

Stone was arrested in January and charged with misleading the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 about his efforts to find out when WikiLeaks would be releasing emails hacked from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign. The charges, which include giving false statements, obstruction and witness tampering, were the last to be filed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team before their investigation ended.

Stone, 67, could face prison time if convicted in the trial, which is expected to last up to three weeks.

Prosecutors said Stone asked a standup comedian turned radio talk show host, Randy Credico, to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for him and pass messages back and forth. The charges say Stone urged Credico to lie to the Intelligence Committee about those contacts.

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"Stonewall it. Plead the fifth," Stone texted him, and even threatened to take away Credico's dog, Mueller's team said.

According to prosecutors, Stone also urged Credico to emulate a character from "The Godfather Part II" movie, Frank Pentangeli, who is called to testify before a congressional committee involving organized crime, expected to implicate mob boss Michael Corleone. But when Corleone enters the hearing room, Pentangeli claims to know nothing about him and says, "I was in the olive oil business with his father, but that was a long time ago."

Court documents said Stone urged Credico to tell the House committee, "Sure I know Roger Stone. He was in the olive oil business with my father. But that was a long time ago." Prosecutors sought permission to show a clip from the movie during the trial, but the judge declined to allow it.

Stone has steadfastly denied knowing ahead of time what WikiLeaks was planning to release.

"I received nothing from WikiLeaks or from the Russians," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" in May of last year. "I passed nothing along to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign."

His lawyers also urged the judge to dismiss the charges, arguing that Mueller was not properly given the special counsel appointment, but that argument was rejected.

Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington issued a series of orders over the past several months, ratcheting up restrictions on Stone's ability to talk publicly about the case. One admonition came in February after one of Stone's Instagram account showed a photograph of the judge and what appeared to be gunsight crosshairs.

In July, Jackson barred Stone from posting anything on social media until after the trial, expanding on an earlier gag order that said he could not discuss the case online or in the news media.

"I am wrestling with behavior that has more to do with middle school that a court of law," she told him at a court hearing.

Stone reportedly claimed in spring of 2016 — and later denied — that he was in touch directly with Assange. And it appeared that Mueller's investigators might have considered him to be a link connecting the Trump campaign with Russian meddling. But no such charges were ever brought.

For more than four decades, Stone has been a political consultant, mostly for Republican candidates, known for aggressively pursuing and using opposition research. He once co-owned a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for financial crimes stemming from his lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

When Mueller's investigation shut down in May, Stone's prosecution was taken over by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. Two other defendants who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, have yet to be sentenced. And charges have not yet gone to trial against a Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, and its top executive, Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed "Putin's chef" for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; Prigozhin and his company are accused of planting phony social media during the 2016 campaign.