Prosecutor says Stone lied to Congress to protect Trump as trial opens

A federal prosecutor on Wednesday told a jury that Roger Stone lied to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign in order to protect President Trump.

The accusation came in the government’s opening arguments in the trial for the longtime Trump adviser over charges of making false statements, obstruction and witness tampering.

“The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad — the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Aaron Zelinsky, a prosecutor with the Department of Justice and a member of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team, told the jury.

Stone has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts related to his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017. Prosecutors say that he lied to Congress about his contacts with both the campaign and WikiLeaks. Stone is also accused of lying about not having a record of communications with the two entities.

Both sides on Wednesday offered a glimpse of their legal strategies in another remarkable day in a case that has become a spectacle in the political world largely because of Stone’s antics.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, has had to muzzle Stone with a gag order prohibiting him from posting on social media after he repeatedly accused her of being biased against him.

Stone’s first appearance in the trial came during jury selection on Tuesday. The judge excused him from the courtroom for the day on Tuesday after he complained of feeling ill from food poisoning. He told reporters that he was feeling better when he arrived at the courthouse Wednesday morning. 

And for the second day in a row, Milo Yiannopolous, the right-wing provocateur, sat in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

Zelinsky alleged that Stone spoke directly to Trump in June 2016 after the Democratic National Committee announced that it had been hacked. He said the two spoke briefly on the phone, but what they discussed is unknown.

Zelinsky also said Stone was conveying information passed onto him from WikiLeaks to the highest levels of the Trump campaign in the weeks before the group released a batch of stolen emails taken from John Podesta, the campaign chairman for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in October 2016.

“I have an idea To save Trump’s ass," Stone wrote in an email to Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign who is currently serving a prison sentence over fraud charges that also stemmed from the Mueller investigation.

“I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” Stone said in a message to Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former campaign CEO and senior White House adviser. 

Bannon and Richard Gates, a former senior Trump campaign aide, are both expected to testify in Stone's trial.

Zelinsky said Stone had urged Jerome Corsi, the conspiracy theorist formerly of Infowars, to press WikiLeaks head Julian Assange for more damaging information after his group released a batch of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee in the summer of 2016.

According to emails displayed in court on Wednesday, Stone told Corsi to “get to Assange” about a pending email release.

Zelinsky said that instead of coming clean about his use of Corsi as an intermediary, Stone tried to pin that role on the political activist and radio host Randy Credico.

“Stone lied and tried to use Credico as the fall guy for everything,” Zelinsky said. He accused Stone of trying to pressure Credico into not revealing the truth to Congress and the special counsel.

Messages between the two show that Stone told Credico that he should tell Mueller to “go f--- himself.” Credico is also expected to testify.

Bruce Rogow, Stone's attorney, though, insisted there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

In his opening argument, he countered that Stone went into his deposition with the House Intelligence Committee with the understanding that the interview would focus solely on Russia's involvement in the 2016 election and so he was not thinking about WikiLeaks at the time.

"This was a Russian investigation and the fact that it was a Russian investigation colored all of his answers," Rogow told the jury.

"These parameters created the structure, created the backdrop for Mr. Stone’s appearance," Rogow added.

Rogow said that the conversations between Stone, Credico, Corsi and Trump's associates show that the men were engaging in "political machinations" related to the 2016 campaign and were trying to play each other.

He denied that Stone had any inside knowledge about upcoming document dumps from WikiLeaks, despite his public statements claiming to have spoken with Assange.

"There was no intermediary between Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRoger Stone won't testify as defense prepares to rest case The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings Ex-Trump campaign official testifies Stone gave updates on WikiLeaks email dumps MORE and Julian Assange," Rogow said.

Stone's attorney told the jury that they will have a chance to view a wider portion of Stone and Credico's communications to show that the two men often converse in an "odious" manner.

"This is the way these two men talk to one another," Rogow said, arguing that it wasn't evidence of wrongdoing.

Updated at 4:10 p.m.