Judge denies Roger Stone’s motion for new trial
A federal judge rejected Roger Stone’s motion for a new trial on Thursday, nearly two months after the longtime Republican political operative was sentenced to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Stone’s lawyers had asked for a new trial after raising concerns about one juror’s political leanings, which prompted President Trump to weigh in with accusations that the trial had been rigged against his former campaign adviser.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, said in an 80-page opinion that Stone’s lawyer’s failed to show that the juror in question had misrepresented her feelings about Stone or Trump or that any bias she might have had tainted the verdict.
“The assumption underlying the motion – that one can infer from the juror’s opinions about the President that she could not fairly consider the evidence against the defendant – is not supported by any facts or data and it is contrary to controlling legal precedent,” Jackson wrote. “The motion is a tower of indignation, but at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up.”
It’s unclear whether Stone will appeal.
“The Stone team is reviewing the decision and will determine how we intend to proceed in the coming days,” Seth Ginsberg, one of his attorneys, said in an email to The Hill.
The decision could bring to a close a courtroom saga that has been fraught with controversy.
Stone was convicted in November after a jury saw evidence that he had lied to Congress about his efforts to backchannel information to the 2016 Trump campaign from WikiLeaks, which at the time was releasing damaging stolen emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
But the facts of the case were quickly overshadowed in the weeks before Stone’s sentencing when Trump and his administration intervened. After the prosecution team, which included lawyers from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, recommended that Stone be sentenced to up to nine years in prison, Attorney General William Barr overruled them and put forth a more lenient sentence.
The move prompted the prosecution team to withdraw from the case, with one of the lawyers resigning from the Justice Department completely.
The incident raised concerns about political interference in a criminal case. Barr has denied that the president pushed him to intercede.
But Trump’s own public comments about the case complicated the DOJ’s involvement.
“There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case,” Trump tweeted in February. “Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!”
After the trial, the defense team pointed to social media posts from one of the jurors that was critical of Trump as evidence that she had been biased against Stone, but Jackson on Thursday rejected the argument.
“In the absence of any explicit statements of opinion about Stone, the defense casts its arguments about bias in terms of some sort of blend of ‘anti-Stone and anti-Trump sentiment,’” the judge wrote. “But linking them together in a sentence does not make them one and the same; there is zero evidence of ‘explicit bias’ against Stone, and defendant’s attempts to gain a new trial based on implied or inferred bias fail.”
One question hanging over the Stone case since the verdict was pronounced is whether Trump will pardon his longtime confidant. In February, he said that he wanted to see how Stone’s motion for a new trial plays out before deciding.
“I’m following this very closely, and I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion,” Trump said at the time.
“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out,” he added. “I think that’s the best thing to do. Because I’d love to see Roger exonerated, and I’d love to see it happen, because I personally believe he was treated very unfairly.”
Trump’s involvement has also led to repercussions for the two jurors who came out with public statements after the trial to explain the verdict and to defend the prosecutors who ended up withdrawing from the case. In a court filing on Thursday, the jurors testified that they had been harassed since being identified.
“Since being chosen as a juror, I have begun to receive many phone calls from unknown numbers,” one of them said in an anonymous affidavit. “The phone calls tend to increase when the case appears in the news.”
Updated at 7:53 p.m.
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