Trial of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone begins

Roger Stone, the longtime Republican political operative and associate of President Trump, arrived on Tuesday for the start of his long-awaited trial for allegedly lying to Congress about his role as a liaison between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

Even before the opening arguments, the trial has already witnessed a number of dramatic episodes. Stone was reportedly excused Tuesday as jury selection began after telling the judge that he believed he had food poisoning. And the courtroom was cleared after a spectator suffered what reporters in the room described as a seizure.

After jury selection wraps up, each side is expected to deliver opening arguments on Wednesday, with the trial expected to last about two weeks. If convicted, Stone could face a maximum of 20 years in prison, though his sentence would likely be less severe.

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Stone was indicted in January amid special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to gain an advantage over Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

If the trial plays out like the months leading up to it, it is sure to be fraught with political drama.

Among those who could testify include Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, former Trump associates who were also charged as part of the Mueller investigation; the conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi; and former senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon.

Stone has been a Republican operative since the 1972 Nixon campaign, known in the political world as a provocateur. He served Trump as a lobbyist for his casino business in the 1980s and briefly as a campaign adviser in 2015. 

Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers about his contacts with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign in 2016 as WikiLeaks was preparing to release a batch of emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign.

He said in testimony before Congress that he had no advanced knowledge of any releases from WikiLeaks, though text messages and emails in the indictment show him sharing information about the release ahead of time with the Trump campaign and even asking WikiLeaks for damning information about Clinton.

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Stone also faces charges of witness tampering for allegedly pressuring his intermediary with WikiLeaks — believed to be the radio host Randy Credico — to not cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia's alleged election interference.

In text messages detailed in the indictment, Stone pressured Credico not to testify before the committee or release any information that would refute his testimony that he did not possess written communications between the two about contact with WikiLeaks.

Stone allegedly threatened Credico, who relies on a support dog, saying he'll "take that dog away from you" and telling him to "prepare to die."

The case has already been a Washington spectacle in the months since Stone was arrested.

Stone repeatedly lashed out at Judge Amy Berman Jackson on social media, accusing her of bias because she was appointed by former President Obama and even posting a picture of her face next to crosshairs. That led Jackson to eventually impose a strict gag order prohibiting Stone from using any social media or discussing the case with reporters.

She also rejected his lawyers' request to play a clip from the film "The Godfather II" to illustrate a reference that Stone had made in his text messages to Credico. Mueller's indictment details Stone urging Credico to pull a "Frank Pantangeli" — a reference to a character in the movie who knowingly lies to Congress about the Mafia. Jackson ruled that Stone's lawyers could use a transcript of key parts of the movie to illustrate a point about Stone's reference during the trial.

Stone has denied that he was pressuring Credico not to cooperate.

Trump has largely kept his distance from Stone's case since his former adviser was indicted, but last year the president praised him for his loyalty as other Trump associates began cooperating with the Mueller probe.

“'I will never testify against Trump.' This statement was recently made by Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneHill says Soros conspiracy theories are 'new Protocols of the Elders of Zion' Live coverage: Impeachment spotlight shifts to Fiona Hill, David Holmes 'Iowa Pete' poll exposes myth that Democrats are veering left MORE, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE,'" the president said in a tweet last December before Stone was indicted. "Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'”

Stone has been relatively quiet since Jackson imposed the most stringent version of her gag order, though last week he sat down for an interview with a Miami CBS affiliate in which he defended Trump against the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into his dealings with the president of Ukraine.

Stone also said he had not spoken with the president in “quite some time.”

When asked whether he could expect a pardon from Trump, Stone responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t discuss that in any way.”

Updated at 4:26 p.m.