A federal judge Thursday evening denied Roger Stone’s request for a new trial, shutting down an attempt by President Trump’s allies to disrupt his case that played out in February.
Before the coronavirus outbreak rocked the country, the rollercoaster of events in the weeks before and after Stone’s sentencing was one of biggest stories of how Trump and his allies were wreaking havoc on the U.S. system of justice.
A month and a half after the apex of the drama, and several weeks into the current pandemic, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson finally handed down her opinion explaining why a new trial was not necessary, while dismantling the conspiracy theories that had been peddled by Stone and echoed by Trump.
Judge Jackson of Washington, D.C., said in her order that Stone’s claims of jury misconduct were “a tower of indignation, but at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up.”
Specifically, Stone was unable to prove that the juror in question lied in the jury selection process, as he had claimed, and he also failed to surface any other evidence of misconduct, the judge said.
The denial puts into motion a two-week clock for Stone to appeal the judge’s decision, before she begins imposing his three and a half year prison sentence. Stone was convicted in November of making false statements in the House’s Russia probe, as well as tampering with a witness in it.
His case had become a focal point of concerns of improper political interference in the Justice Department, after Attorney General Bill Barr sought to water down the trial prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations. Meanwhile, President Trump has amplified Stone’s claims that his jury was biased against him.
Judge Jackson’s Thursday order recapped these “extraordinary developments” as she teed up the events that led to Stone’s claims.
Stone’s allegations centered on the the foreperson of his jury, who identified herself publicly in a social media post defending the prosecutors in February amid the sentencing chaos. Stone targeted her pre-trial social media posts, many of them anti-Trump, and suggested that she had been misleading in her responses in a written jury questionnaire.
The judge said Thursday that Stone’s “suggestion that posts expressing opposition to President Trump betray a bias against him is not supported by any evidence or by the case law.”
Furthermore, the judge concluded, Stone could have accessed those social media posts during the jury selection period, but failed to question the juror about them, due to the defense’s “strategic choice not to look for social media information.”
“The evidence the defense claims was critical was never ‘concealed’– it was a few clicks of a mouse away,” the judge said.
At a lengthy hearing on the claims in February Judge Jackson brought in both the foreperson and two other members of the jury to testify about her conduct. The two other jurors praised the foreperson’s handling of the deliberations; one juror even revealed that the foreperson had suggested that the jury slow down in its consideration of one of the counts. The foreperson herself, meanwhile, defended her questionnaire responses, and said she was being honest when she wrote on the form she couldn’t remember if she had posted on social media about Stone and other matters related to the case.
The proceedings were extraordinary on several levels, not the least of which because they started out with the judge calling out Trump and his allies for their attacks on the jury. Trump continued to tweet negatively about the case through the proceedings.
The judge expressed heavy skepticism toward Stone’s claims at the hearing, but said she wanted to create a record in case her ultimate decision was appealed. The proceedings also revealed that Stone’s team hadn’t bothered to google any of the jurors ahead of the trial, despite being given a list of prospective jurors that would have allowed them to do so.
This is the second time Stone has unsuccessfully sought a new trial. His first attempt concerned a juror who worked for the IRS. Stone has also asked Berman Jackson to recuse herself because she praised the jury while his most recent allegations were pending. She has denied that request as well.
In denying the order, the judge also lifted the gag order she had placed on Stone in the case, which she imposed after he published on social media several inflammatory posts, including a photo of the judge herself with a crosshairs graphic over her shoulder.
Stone’s first post after the ban on his social media activity was a photo of pasta.
“The gag order has been lifted by the first order of business is dinner – Stone’s Linguini,” the caption said.
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