Judge rejects Roger Stone’s new trial motion

“The defendant has not shown that the juror lied; nor has he shown that the supposedly disqualifying evidence could not have been found through the exercise of due diligence at the time the jury was selected,” wrote Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “Moreover, while the social media communications may suggest that the juror has strong opinions about certain people or issues, they do not reveal that she had an opinion about Roger Stone, which is the opinion that matters.”

In her 81-page opinion, accompanied by many of the juror’s Facebook and Twitter posts, Jackson also said the motion by Stone’s lawyers to overturn the jury verdict was long on rhetoric, but short on facts. “The motion is a tower of indignation, but at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up,” she wrote.

Stone’s ruling means that the longtime political consultant and conservative provocateur could have to report to prison in as soon as two weeks. However, federal prison operations have been severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, so it is not clear how soon Stone would be called to surrender.

Trump has remained cagey about whether a pardon or commutation is forthcoming, but has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Stone. In tweets in February, the president seemed to enthusiastically endorse Stone’s complaints about Hart, the jury foreperson.

“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,” he wrote in one post. “She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!”

Jackson emphasized that the juror’s negative opinion about Trump, contained in social media posts, could not reasonably be interpreted as inherent bias against Stone. There was no evidence that the juror had any knowledge of who Stone was or evidence that she could not set aside her political views to render a fair judgment.

“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 judge bristled at Stone’s repeated attempts to make this equivalence, and said some of them bordered on the absurd. For example, Stone cited a photo of Hart with longtime Democratic operative Donna Brazile to suggest the juror had bias against Trump and Stone.

“But the photo was posted in 2008, eleven years before the Stone trial, eight years before there was an Office of Special Counsel, and seven years before Donald Trump had even entered the race to be the 2016 Republican nominee,” Jackson emphasized in a lengthy footnote.

Jackson’s order, notably, also releases Stone from a year-long gag order that sharply restricted his ability to speak to reporters or speak publicly about the case, a shift that could result in a far more public airing of Stone’s grievances about the trial.

After a trial last November that lasted a little over a week, Stone was convicted on seven felony charges: five counts of making false statements to Congress, one of obstruction of Congress and one of witness tampering.

Stone is expected to appeal his convictions and his sentence, but doing so won’t automatically avoid him having to report to prison when he is told to do so by prison officials. To hold that off, he will need a stay from Jackson or a higher court.

The indictment was the final prosecution brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. After it disbanded last May, the case was taken over by prosecutors attached to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, including some who had worked on Mueller’s probe.

The case drew significant media attention, but unleashed a firestorm in February after Attorney General William Barr ordered a reversal of their recommendation that Stone receive between seven and nine years in prison. Barr’s action followed a public complaint by Trump that the proposal was overkill, although the attorney general insisted he had decided to dial it back before Trump spoke out.

The intervention by Barr resulted in all four prosecutors assigned to the case withdrawing from it and one quitting the government altogether.

That development led Hart to speak up on Facebook in defense of the prosecution team. “I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis — the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” Hart said. “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.”

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