Roger Stone Lied to Protect Trump, Prosecutors Argue at Trial
WASHINGTON — Focusing squarely on his ties to President Trump, federal prosecutors argued Wednesday that Roger J. Stone Jr. blatantly obstructed a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election because the truth “would look really bad” for Mr. Trump.
In closing arguments in Mr. Stone’s obstruction of justice trial, prosecutors argued that he concealed reams of evidence, threatened a fragile witness and told “whoppers” that impeded a House committee’s investigation into how Russia used WikiLeaks to sabotage the 2016 presidential race.
“He knew that if the truth came out about what he was doing in 2016, it would look terrible,” Jonathan Kravis, an assistant United States attorney, told the jurors on the sixth day of Mr. Stone’s trial on charges of deceiving the House Intelligence Committee two years ago. “Roger Stone knew that if this information came out it would look really bad for his longtime associate Donald Trump.”
Bruce S. Rogow, Mr. Stone’s defense lawyer, countered that the entire premise of the prosecution’s case was false because Mr. Stone had no evidence that would have hurt Mr. Trump, or embarrassed his campaign. “That is a nonstarter,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Not only was Mr. Trump by then president and concerned with weightier matters when Mr. Stone testified before lawmakers in September 2017, Mr. Rogow said, but his campaign a year earlier had merely expressed a natural interest in what WikiLeaks might have in store for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent. “There was nothing malignant, nothing corrupt” about the conduct of Mr. Stone or the campaign, he said.
Mr. Stone’s trial in a federal courthouse in Washington has unfolded against the backdrop of the impeachment inquiry into the president underway blocks away on Capitol Hill. As Congress grapples with allegations that Mr. Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to help his 2020 re-election effort, the Stone case has revived the story of how Russian operatives stole tens of thousands of Democratic emails and funneled them to WikiLeaks, which released them at critical points in the 2016 campaign.
Jury deliberations will begin on Thursday, said Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the trial. Mr. Stone is charged with seven felonies that together carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, though a defendant with no criminal history, like Mr. Stone, would almost certainly receive a far lighter punishment if he were found guilty on any counts.
Prosecutors have said Mr. Stone hid dozens of text messages and emails that were pertinent to the House committee’s inquiry; deliberately misidentified the person he dispatched to get in touch with the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in late summer 2016; covered up the fact that he tried to obtain stolen Democratic emails from WikiLeaks and denied that he talked to Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks’ plans.
Two former senior campaign officials, Rick Gates and Stephen K. Bannon, testified that they and other aides talked to Mr. Stone because he appeared to have inside information from WikiLeaks. Mr. Gates also recounted a July 2016 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Stone, days after WikiLeaks released a trove of documents. As soon as they hung up, Mr. Trump said to Mr. Gates that more information would be coming out.
According to the prosecutors, Mr. Stone falsely named Randy Credico, a New York radio host, as his go-between with WikiLeaks in July and August 2016. In fact, they said, he was relying on an author and conspiracy theorist named Jerome Corsi. Mr. Stone also falsely told the committee that he merely tried to confirm that WikiLeaks had emails that would prove damaging to Mrs. Clinton, and insisted he had no electronic communications with Mr. Credico, the prosecutors said.
Records introduced as evidence show the two men exchanged more than 1,500 electronic messages from June to September 2017, including 72 texts on Sept. 26, the day of his testimony. Despite his promises to cooperate, “Roger Stone has no intention of telling the committee the truth,” Mr. Kravis argued. “He is just making stuff up.”
He said that Mr. Stone was now relying on sophistry to try to explain why he was not truthful, claiming that he confined his answers to publicly declared parameters of the committee’s inquiry. “That is not how this works,” Mr. Kravis said. “Roger Stone does not get to pick and choose which facts he thinks are important and then lie about the rest of them.”
He also argued that Mr. Stone pressured Mr. Credico not to testify to the House committee because Mr. Credico was “the one guy out there who can knock down this whole house of cards.” In the end, the radio host asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to cooperate.
Mr. Rogow asked jurors to consider obvious holes in the prosecution’s case, including why Mr. Corsi, who was supposedly Mr. Stone’s true intermediary with WikiLeaks, was never called to testify. He also cast Mr. Credico, a key witness for the prosecution, as a perennial liar.
“These two guys tampered with one another for 20 years over all kinds of crazy things,” he said. “It was crude, it was odious” — but, he said, it was not criminal.
Mr. Stone’s lawyers appeared to struggle throughout the trial to present a strong defense. Judge Jackson repeatedly summoned Mr. Rogow to the bench to correct missteps, interrupting him even during his closing argument.
The defense rested its case after playing an audio tape of about 50 minutes of Mr. Stone’s congressional testimony, calling no witnesses.
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