Roger Stone Is Guilty in Trial Over Lies About 2016 Leaks

(Bloomberg) -- Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and early Trump booster, was convicted of lying to Congress, obstructing a congressional probe and witness tampering, just two days after House Democrats separately began public impeachment hearings.

The U.S. case against Stone -- the last person charged during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election -- included evidence that President Donald Trump knew about WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails damaging to his rival, Hillary Clinton. Stone lied to Congress to protect the president, prosecutors said.

Roger Stone Is Guilty in Trial Over Lies About 2016 Leaks

Stone’s conviction at trial on Friday, on all seven counts against him, follows that of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, and the guilty pleas of Manafort’s top deputy, Rick Gates, the president’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn, and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The charges against Stone, 67, stemmed from his September 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, which was also probing Russian meddling.

The lobbyist and Twitter provocateur looked stoic as the verdicts were read out, one at a time, in federal court in Washington, standing with his right hand touching the top of the defense table. He wore glasses, which he removed and placed on the table as the final charge came back guilty. The jury had begun deliberating on Thursday.

The verdict -- in a case about communications over documents the U.S. says Russia stole to tilt the 2016 election to Trump -- comes as the House considers impeaching the president for holding up military aid to Ukraine against Russia, allegedly to make Ukraine’s president open a criminal probe of Trump’s rival Joe Biden for an edge in the 2020 race.

Gag Order

Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to keep Stone in custody until he is sentenced Feb. 6, saying he violated a gag order she’d placed on him by reaching out to his followers through a radio host on Thursday night; his lawyer Bruce Rogow referred to the right-wing shock jock Alex Jones. Jackson let Stone go free, since he had “largely adhered” to her direction during the trial and had been in court for every appearance, though she kept the gag order in place.

Under that constraint, Stone offered only a nervous smile to a throng of supporters, some crying, and reporters outside court before leaving with his lawyers and his wife, who was also in tears. One supporter, Michael Caputo, was removed after refusing to stand as the jurors were excused and, when he did stand, facing the back wall.

Each false-statement count, as well as the obstruction count, carries a statutory maximum prison sentence of five years, witness tampering as many as 20. Stone, as an older, nonviolent offender, will probably get far less time. A presidential pardon is also possible.

“I expect custody but on a modest scale,” former federal prosecutor Ken White said of the prison time likely facing Stone. While the false-statement counts will probably bring at most a year behind bars, because no financial loss was involved, the witness-tampering charge is more serious, White said.

“Even in a worst-case scenario for him, the guideline range is still three to four years, and I would be very surprised if he got that much,” he said.

Shortly after the verdict, Trump complained about Stone’s conviction in a tweet that suggested several of his political opponents, including Clinton, deserved to be in prison.

Stone’s trial centered on the former Trump adviser’s boasts in 2016 that he knew about the WikiLeaks dirt on Clinton and her campaign chairman and when it would be made public.

Stone was accused of withholding from the congressional panel evidence of his conversations with two possible intermediaries with WikiLeaks -- Randy Credico, a comedian and talk show host, and the conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. Each of the two had communicated with WikiLeaks, the U.S. said, but Corsi was Stone’s real liaison.

In answering questions from the House committee, however, Stone deliberately omitted Corsi, with whom he corresponded about WikiLeaks releases in July and August 2016, prosecutors alleged. Jurors heard from Credico, who bolstered the government’s case that Corsi was the true liaison by testifying that he himself wasn’t in touch with Stone about WikiLeaks during the period in question. That contradicted what Stone had told the House panel, prosecutors said.

The U.S. also pursued Stone’s contacts with the campaign. Gates, the 2016 deputy chairman, testified for prosecutors that during a phone call Trump took on the way to the airport with him in 2016, the candidate heard directly from Stone that WikiLeaks planned future releases. Trump had said in a written reply to Mueller that he didn’t recall any such conversations.

Prosecutors summoned Steve Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s campaign, to tell jurors that he viewed Stone as the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks and its trove of stolen documents on Clinton that U.S. intelligence concluded were stolen by Russia. He said Stone bragged of his relationship with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

‘Godfather’ References

Early in the trial, former FBI agent Michelle Taylor, who worked on Mueller’s team, used a chart to identify 25 calls Stone had with Manafort, 28 with Gates, two with Bannon and two with Trump himself, including the call en route to the airport.

Credico testified that Stone pressured him to confirm Stone’s House testimony, to claim he couldn’t recall or to assert his right against self-incrimination, as Credico ultimately did. Messages between the two included references to Frank Pentangeli, the “Godfather” character who experiences a memory lapse when he appears before the U.S. Senate to finger the mob.

But Credico did concede that it was he, not Stone, who first mentioned Pentangeli and that he never took seriously Stone’s threat to snatch his dog if he didn’t comply. He also allowed he sometimes overplayed his own WikiLeaks insights when communicating with Stone as part of a rivalry between the two, and occasionally lied to Stone about what he knew to get Stone off his back.

The defense denied that Stone gleaned secret WikiLeaks intelligence ahead of time and shared it with the Trump campaign, saying that his tweets and other predictions were the sort of grandstanding typical of the outsize fixer and based on public information. Lawyers for Stone said he had no motive to lie when testifying before Congress because his conversations about WikiLeaks weren’t illegal.

Stone thought the House committee, which questioned him for more than three hours and posed almost 600 questions, was asking about Russian interference in the election, since that was the stated scope of its investigation, and not about WikiLeaks, his lawyers said. It was the context in which those questions were asked, and how Stone understood it, that exonerated him, his lawyers told the jury of nine women and three men.

Stone didn’t testify at the trial, which began on Nov. 7. On the defense case, his lawyers merely played excerpts of his House testimony.

The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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