Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Tuesday that attacks from President Donald Trump and commentary from conservative media are part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment of jurors in Roger Stone’s criminal case, before she brought the jurors into the courtroom to testify about the integrity of their decision in November that Stone was guilty.
Jackson read one of the President’s past tweets attacking the Stone jury forewoman, as well as commentary from InfoWars’ Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson from Fox News, to a federal courtroom, in deciding to hear testimony from jurors while protecting their identities after Stone asked for a retrial.
Making jurors’ identities public “would put them at substantial risk of harm,” Jackson said. “In a highly publicized political climate … the risk of harassment and intimidation of any juror” who may testify to the court today “is extremely high.”
“While judges may have volunteered for their positions … jurors are not volunteers,” Jackson said. “They are deserving of the public’s respect.”
Tuesday marked an unusual collision of public commentary about the case and legal maneuvering – on an afternoon when Trump again was tweeting about Stone’s jury, alleging bias.
After days of attacks from the President following Stone’s sentencing last week, the hearing finally clarified Stone’s reasons for wanting a new trial: He believes his jury forewoman wasn’t truthful with the court when she said she didn’t remember social media posts she had made about Trump and that she could consider Stone’s evidence fairly. Stone also took issue with his jury’s deliberations, suggesting they may have been tainted. The defense lawyers pointed especially at posts the jury forewoman, Tomeka Hart, had written on social media before the trial that were critical of Trump and commented on arrests in the Mueller investigation.
Jackson didn’t make a decision on Stone’s new-trial request on Tuesday and batted down, using jurors’ testimony, Stone’s suggestion that the jury’s deliberations had considered outside opinions and information.
The more than four-hour court proceeding took an unexpected turn when Jackson announced she had gathered nearly all of Stone’s jurors at the courthouse, that they were sitting in an adjacent room waiting and that she would allow prosecutors and the defense team to question a few of them, shielding their identities in the court transcripts and to those outside the courtroom.
Jackson said she had brought in the jurors “out of an abundance of caution.” Acknowledging Stone might appeal her decision, Jackson noted they would question the foreperson to create a full record of what had happened at Stone’s jury selection. “So we’re going to go forward and ask this foreperson questions in a professional and nonconfrontational way,” she added. “We’re going to give this a try.”
Hart then testified to a closed courtroom. The public was able to listen to her testimony – without seeing her – live.
Stone’s legal team questioned Hart extensively about her posts on social media, and she maintained she had answered the court truthfully both in writing and in person when she said she didn’t recall posting about Stone or what she had heard about him. She did, however, post two hearts and a fist bump in emoji the morning of the verdict, linking to a now-unavailable Facebook post that she doesn’t remember. And she posted on social media about Trump’s impeachment during Stone’s trial.
The judge asked Hart on the stand, “Were you making any effort to downplay” posts the forewoman had made before jury selection when asked about them before the trial.
“No, absolutely not,” Hart said.
Stone’s legal defense team tried to tie Hart’s public opinions about Trump, his supporters and his policies toward race in America to Stone. Hart said she didn’t know what role Stone had played in the campaign before his trial, but “I knew he was arrested because of connections” to the Russia probe.
An opinion about the President and his polices, however, wouldn’t necessarily mean Hart had an opinion about Stone or that she couldn’t judge his case fairly, Jackson said. Two other jurors who testified about their secret deliberations over Stone noted that Hart did not push them toward an opinion or share outside information with the jury, and that the jury had carefully walked through every charge Stone faced to determine his guilt on seven counts.
One juror noted, under oath, “Most of us agreed on our answer. We already said he was guilty, but it was the foreman (Hart) that insisted we examine (one of Stone’s charges) a little more.”
The hearing also prompted Jackson to question prosecutor Michael Marando, who withdrew from the case after Justice Department leadership challenged his and three others’ work on it, and Stone’s defense attorney Robert Buschel in the courtroom about their teams’ handling of the jury selection process.
Marando described how the prosecutors had picked up the list of juror names from the courthouse and transmitted it to Stone’s defense team before the trial. “It’s coming back to me now. A lot has happened,” he said.
And Buschel described how Stone’s team had hired a jury consultant, yet didn’t research the list of names of possible jurors before the trial’s start.
Underscoring the political drama, Trump tweeted twice about the Stone case during the hearing.
“There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case. 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!” the President tweeted roughly 90 minutes after the hearing began. (Stone was part of Trump’s campaign in 2015, however.)
Questions over the jury forewoman have allowed Stone and Trump to publicly try to muddy his conviction. Stone has also unsuccessfully tried to remove Jackson from handling his case, while Trump has commented on the case several times in recent days, regarding both the judge and the forewoman.
It’s unknown what each of Stone’s 120 potential jurors told the court in written questionnaires they filled out before the November trial, well before the prosecutors and defense narrowed the jury to 12 plus alternates. The questionnaires asked each their opinions of Trump and Stone, among several other questions.
At the start of Stone’s November trial, both prosecutors and Stone’s defense team were then able to question potential jurors and challenge them from sitting on the jury. They questioned Hart about her background and her ability to judge Stone impartially, according to a transcript of the trial’s first day. Before the judge, she told them she could evaluate the evidence in the case fairly. Stone’s team didn’t challenge her from being seated on the jury.
Trump has attacked the jury forewoman multiple times publicly, calling the juror’s unanimous findings of Stone’s guilt on all seven charges he faced “tainted.”
“You have a juror that is obviously tainted. She was an activist against Trump. She said bad things about Trump and bad things about Stone,” the President claimed over the weekend. “She somehow weaseled her way onto the jury and if that’s not a tainted jury then there is no such thing as a tainted jury.”
He and Stone’s team have latched onto the social media posts she made before the trial criticizing Trump and his supporters.
Hart publicly identified herself as Stone’s jury forewoman two weeks ago, after the four prosecutors who took him to trial quit his case. The DC District Court has not named her as a juror or as the forewoman.
Once before, Stone asked for a retrial unsuccessfully. He had claimed a juror shouldn’t have been selected who worked for the IRS and had read news about his case before the trial, but Jackson found this request didn’t merit a new trial.
In a decision this weekend to deny Stone’s attempt to remove her from the case, Jackson noted Stone’s recent requests of the court may be more publicity stunts than legal pleadings. He had claimed she couldn’t evaluate his retrial request fairly because she said jurors had integrity during his sentencing.
“At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading [asking for the Jackson’s recusal] 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,” she wrote.
Jackson sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison last week, for obstructing Congress as a way to protect the President and his campaign’s interests in 2016.
This story has been updated with additional details from the hearing.