/Roger Stone guilty of lying to Congress to protect Trump and his campaign

Roger Stone guilty of lying to Congress to protect Trump and his campaign

WASHINGTON – Roger Stone, an ally of President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of lying to Congress and obstructing an investigation into Russia to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.

The jury’s verdict came after about eight hours of deliberation. Stone, a fixture in GOP politics who worked on campaigns stretching back to Richard Nixon’s, now faces the possibility of prison.

He’s the latest Trump ally to be found guilty in cases sprouting from a special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The verdict, reached by a jury of nine women and three men, comes amid an impeachment inquiry into allegations that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine into investigating a political rival. 

Witnesses testified in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill that the White House dangled critical military aid and an official visit in orderto get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Those hearings went public this week, when witnesses testified Wednesday and Friday.

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As the verdicts were read, Stone stood expressionless with his hands in his pockets.

Shortly after, a petition started to circulate calling for Trump to pardon Stone.

Trump took to Twitter, decrying a “double standard” and said law enforcement officials lied, including Robert Mueller, the special counsel who headed the Russia investigation. 

Stone’s trial ends after a week marked with Nixon quotes, references to the Mafia movie “The Godfather” and a colorful witness who offered to do a Bernie Sanders impression before an unamused federal judge. The proceedings attracted the attendance of controversial figures, including alt-right firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Jacob Wohl. 

Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser who attended the trial, said he was escorted out of the courtroom by a federal marshal for turning his back on the jurors as they walked out. 

“Normal Americans don’t stand a chance with an Obama judge and a Washington jury,” he tweeted. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson allowed Stone to go home as he awaits his sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 6. A gag order preventing him from talking about the case remains in effect. He and his attorneys did not comment as they left the courthouse. 

The proceedings revealed information about the Trump campaign’s efforts to seek advance knowledge of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when Trump was trailing in the polls. Testimony indicated these efforts involved the candidate himself. 

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Stone, 67, stood trial on accusations that he repeatedly lied to Congress about his back-channel efforts to push for the release of those emails. He was accused of urging a possible congressional witness to either lie or scuttle his testimony.

“Roger Stone lied … because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told jurors.

Defense attorneys urged jurors to focus on Stone’s state of mind, arguing he did not willfully mislead Congress. The claim that Stone lied to protect the Trump campaign was “absolutely false,” Bruce Rogow told jurors. 

“It makes no sense,” Rogow said, adding that the campaign was long over and Trump was already president when Stone testified before Congress in 2017. “Why would Stone lie, why would he make stuff up? … There is no purpose, there is no reason, there is no motive.”

Stone was found guilty of seven charges: one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering. The maximum penalty for all counts totals 50 years in prison, though first-time offenders generally receive significantly lower sentences. 

Jurors heard from five government witnesses and saw dozens of emails and text messages that prosecutors said proved Stone lied. His defense attorneys did not call any witnesses, and Stone, known for his flamboyance and combativeness, did not testify.

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Defense attorneys sought to poke holes in the government’s case by casting the emails and text messages as statements that, while at times crude, lacked any “malignant” context. 

The charges stemmed from Stone’s interactions with the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, around the time that WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group, began publishing troves of damaging emails about the Democratic National Committee and Clinton.

Prosecutors said Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to push for the release of those emails. They said he lied about the identity of the person who tipped him off about WikiLeaks’ plans – his so-called intermediary. They said he falsely denied talking to the Trump campaign about what he learned and falsely told Congress he did not have text messages and emails in which he talked about WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors said Stone sought to silence a witness who could expose these lies by using threatening references from “The Godfather” movie. Stone urged the witness in multiple emails to follow the steps of Frank Pentangeli, a character in “The Godfather II” who lied to Congress to avoid incriminating Mafia boss Michael Corleone. 

Defense attorneys sought to discredit that witness, a comedian and radio host who Stone told the House committee was his intermediary to WikiLeaks. They said Randy Credico, who said he was never the conduit to the group, “played” Stone and made him believe he had back-channel capabilities with WikiLeaks.

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Rick Gates, another former campaign official, testified that he overheard then-candidate Trump talking to Stone on the phone in July 2016, shortly after WikiLeaks began publishing the DNC emails. “More information is coming,” Trump told Gates after hanging up, according to testimony. In written responses to Mueller, Trump said he did not recall being told about discussions of the hacked emails.

Steve Bannon, the campaign’s former chief executive, testified that he and other members of the campaign saw Stone as their “access point” to WikiLeaks. 

Defense attorneys said testimony didn’t point to a crime. Seeking information that would hurt the opposing party is a staple in political campaigns, they argued. Rogow pointed out that Gates, who was  charged in the Mueller probe, cooperated with prosecutors to avoid prison time.

In all, six Trump allies and former campaign aides have been indicted or convicted since 2017 as part of Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Gates, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, awaits sentencing.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison after he was convicted of several charges, including defrauding banks and taxpayers out of millions of dollars amassed through illicit lobbying.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. He has yet to be sentenced. 

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, is serving three years in prison after admitting he lied to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia. Cohen admitted he was involved in schemes to buy the silence of two women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump. 

Former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is running for Congress, served a two-week prison sentence after admitting he lied to investigators about his contacts with Russians.