Roger Stone’s sentence marks a downfall for the longtime political consultant who worked on political campaigns and reelection committees stretching back to Richard Nixon.
WASHINGTON — The forewoman on the jury that convicted Roger Stone said she did not lie in a jury questionnaire in which she was asked whether she had posted publicly about the longtime ally of President Donald Trump.
The issue is at the heart of a bid for a new trial by Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race. The 67-year-old GOP operative was sentenced last week to three years and four months in prison, but U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has allowed Stone to not begin serving his sentence while the motion for a new trial is unresolved.
The question at issue asked jurors before they were selected whether they have posted anything publicly about Stone and the Russia investigation. The forewoman wrote she could not remember if she had posted anything, and she was not sure.
“That was an honest answer,” she said during a hearing Tuesday.
The hours-long hearing, during which the forewoman and two other jurors were questioned by the judge and the defense attorney, is the latest in what has become a contentious criminal case. Trump has injected himself publicly, attacking the prosecution team, the judge and the forewoman. In the middle of the hearing, Trump again criticized the forewoman, calling her a “tainted” and “totally biased” juror.
Stone’s attorneys asked for a new trial earlier this month, after Trump first criticized the forewoman on Twitter.
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Stone’s attorney, Seth Ginsberg, argued that the juror gave either false or intentionally misleading answers about her views on Stone and her ability to be fair. Ginsberg cited the forewoman’s social media posts, saying they implied bias against the president and, by extension, against Stone.
Ginsberg singled out a few social media posts, including a tweet sharing a news article about Stone’s arrest and indictment. “Brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery,” the forewoman wrote.
In a lengthy, and at times tense exchange, Jackson repeatedly pressed Ginsberg on whether the juror’s negative views of the president meant she was biased against Stone. Having an opinion about Trump or on some of his policies does not mean the forewoman cannot be fair to Stone, Jackson said.
The forewoman was also asked about a tweet showing a fist bump emoji. The tweet was shared in November, when the trial was still ongoing. When asked if the tweet was meant to celebrate a guilty verdict that has not yet been reached, the forewoman said, “Absolutely not.”
Also at issue is whether the forewoman failed to follow instructions during the trial and deliberations — including not reading news coverage of the case and sharing them with fellow jurors.
Two other jurors testified that there was no such misconduct.
One juror testified that he “never had any feeling” that the forewoman tried to impose her views on him or the rest of the jury. Another testified that during deliberations, the forewoman encouraged further discussion on one count, even after some jurors had already reached their decision.
Earlier in the hearing, Jackson imposed restrictions to keep jury information private during the proceedings. Attorneys were not allowed to say the jurors’ names and jury numbers, which meant the forewoman answering questions was not publicly identified. The courtroom was closed from the public, although an audio live stream was available.
In a highly publicized case and at a time of extreme political polarization, “in which the president himself has shone a spotlight” on the identity of a juror, the risk of harassment and intimidation of jurors is high, Jackson said.
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“Any attempts to invade the privacy of the jurors … is completely antithetical to our entire system of justice,” Jackson said. Although judges volunteer for their position, jurors do not, she added, and not protecting their privacy “can have a significant chilling effect” on members of the public who may not want to show up when they’re summoned to serve on a jury.
Jackson said there is “a specific and significant interest” in keeping jurors safe and free from harassment and intimidation.
Stone was convicted in November of seven crimes, including repeatedly lying to the House Intelligence Committee and obstructing its Russia investigation. Stone was also convicted of urging a possible congressional witness to lie.
Jackson also sentenced Stone to two years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $20,000 in fines.
In a tweet days before Stone was sentenced, Trump accused Tomeka Hart, who had identified herself on Facebook as the forewoman, of having “significant bias.”
The tweet came after Hart, a former school board member in Memphis who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Tennessee’s 9th congressional district, defended four career prosecutors who handled Stone’s case. The prosecutors withdrew from the case after the Justice Department leadership overruled their sentence recommendation of seven to nine years in prison.
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Stone’s attorneys had earlier asked for a motion for a new trial based on the alleged bias of another juror. Jackson denied the request.
Last week, Stone’s attorneys sought to have Jackson removed from the case because of what she said about jurors during Stone’s sentencing hearing. In a long statement before she announced Stone’s sentence, Jackson said jurors “served with integrity” – a comment that defense attorneys say “undermines the appearance of impartiality.”
Jackson’s statement is “premature” because the pending motion for a new trial questions the integrity of one juror, Stone’s attorneys argued.
Jackson dismissed the move as merely an attempt to gain public interest in the case.
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“If parties could move to disqualify every judge who furrows his brow at one side or the other before ruling, the entire court system would come to a standstill,” Jackson said. “At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court’s docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words ‘judge’ and ‘biased’ in it.”
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