Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in prison for lying to Congress and threatening a witness regarding his efforts for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, but the legal battle isn’t over.
Stone continues to lobby in court for a new trial, and Trump – addressing widespread speculation he will pardon his longtime friend and ally – says the jury’s foreperson was “totally tainted” and an “anti-Trump activist.” Still, the odds of Stone getting a new trial may be steep because of the steps the court took to vet the 12 jurors who determined his guilt.
The President suggested – without evidence – that the foreperson wasn’t honest when she answered questions during jury selection. “Now I don’t know if this is a fact, but she had a horrible social media account. The things she said on the account were unbelievable,” Trump said.
Trump also said he was inclined to watch the legal process play out for Stone, including appeals. “I want the process play out,” but, he added, “I’d love to see Roger exonerated.”
“At some point I’ll make a determination, but Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process,” Trump said.
Here’s the layout of the latest controversy in the politically charged case.
Stone wants a new trial, citing juror bias
Stone’s attorneys are asking Judge Amy Berman Jackson to grant him a new trial. He’s claimed alleged juror misconduct, though more details about his request are still under seal with the court. But while his request is percolating with the judge, Stone supporters and Trump have publicly attacked the jury foreperson, Tomeka Hart, since last week for what they say is her bias toward the President.
Trump has also repeated a Fox News analyst’s argument that Stone should get a new trial because she has made partisan comments.
Hart ran for the US Congress from Tennessee as a Democrat in 2012, losing her party’s nomination to Rep. Steve Cohen. A search of Hart’s social media posts finds multiple tweets criticizing Trump and the Republican Party.
Hart posted in August “stop being racists,” about Trump supporters at a rally, according to a Twitter account that uses the handle @hartformemphis and says it is Tomeka Hart. On the day of Stone’s arrest last January, the account shared an NPR story about the end of charges being filed in the Mueller investigation. “Brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery,” Hart’s account posted on Twitter.
The court has not released Hart’s name, but her bio matches the questioning of juror 1261, who acknowledged to the court during the trial’s first day in November that she ran for Congress and lived in Tennessee. Hart publicly revealed herself to be the Stone jury forewoman last week in a post on social media.
Stone’s defense team did not attempt to challenge juror 1261 from serving on the jury at the time. Hart told the judge and lawyers for both sides that she could be impartial.
Hart had remained silent about the case for months out of concern for her safety and “politicizing the matter,” but spoke out on Facebook this month after four prosecutors quit the case amid controversy over Stone’s possible sentence.
“I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis – the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” she wrote on Facebook. “It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.”
The Justice Department opposes Stone’s new trial request, and in a rare move said the decision was approved by Attorney General William Barr, independent of the White House. Stone must further explain his request to the court by Monday. He won’t have to begin serving his sentence until at least two weeks after the judge decides on the new trial request.
What Hart said about potential bias
All 120 potential jurors in Stone’s case had filled out detailed questionnaires before the trial started, designed to root out potential bias. Those questionnaires are still kept confidential by the court. But in them, each potential juror for Stone was asked if they had opinions about people who’d be mentioned at trial, including Trump. It’s not known what Hart wrote on her questionnaire.
According to a court transcript of the jury selection process, Hart acknowledged having a social media presence and knowing that Stone was involved in the Trump campaign and possibly connected with the Russia investigation.
Jackson asked directly: “Is there anything about that that affects your ability to judge him fairly and impartially sitting here right now in this courtroom?” Hart replied: “Absolutely not.”
The judge followed up: “Can you kind of wipe the slate clean and learn what you need to learn in this case from the evidence presented in the courtroom and no other source?” Hart replied: “Yes.”
Stone attorney Robert Buschel asked Hart about the politics of the case, according to the transcript.
“The fact that you run for an office, you’re affiliated with a political party. Roger Stone is affiliated with the Republican Party, Donald Trump. You understand what I’m saying and getting at?” Buschel said. “I do,” Hart said.”
“How do you feel about that?” Buschel asked. After the prosecutors took issue with his question, Jackson rephrased the question.
Jackson asked: “Can you make that question a little bit more crisp? Is there anything about his affiliation with the Trump campaign and the Republican Party in general that gives you any reason to pause or hesitate or think that you couldn’t fairly evaluate the evidence against him?”
Hart replied: “No.”
Buschel replied, “Thank you, ma’am.”
A Stone juror, Seth Cousins, said on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” on Wednesday that Hart was a fair juror.
“She was probably the strongest advocate in the room for a rigorous process, for the rights of the defendant and for making sure that we took it seriously and looked at each charge,” Cousins said. “Without her in the room, we would have returned the same verdict and we would have returned it more quickly and without looking as deeply into the evidence. I am firmly convinced of that.”
Jackson rejected a similar retrial request
Jackson has already rejected a previous request from Stone for a retrial because of a separate issue his team had with another juror.
Stone said a juror employed by the IRS who had worked with the Justice Department on criminal tax cases and read about Stone’s arrest should have been dismissed. The juror had not given any opinions about the case, Jackson said, and dismissed Stone’s request.
“The fact that the juror was just one of these approximately 1,400 lawyers (at the IRS) does not begin to establish the sort of inherent bias that should have prompted the Court to strike (the person) in its discretion,” Jackson wrote earlier this month. “Counsel had ample opportunity here” to raise issues of juror bias before the trial, she also wrote.
During jury selection, the judge said that simply having a political viewpoint would not be enough for a potential juror to be dismissed.
“I don’t necessarily think that everyone who says they have a negative opinion of the President is automatically excludable for cause,” Jackson said at the time.
Ultimately, Stone’s team asked for 47 potential jurors to be removed; the judge agreed on 40 of them.
Jackson even decided to toss one juror from the pool for potential bias against Republicans, after Stone’s team asked her to, because that juror didn’t completely answer a question from the judge.