Thursday 14 November 2019

Stone 'straight up lied to Congress' to protect friend Trump, jurors told

On trial: Longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone arrives at court with his wife Nydia. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
On trial: Longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone arrives at court with his wife Nydia. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sarah N Lynch

Prosecutors pulled back the curtain on Roger Stone's private dealings with Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, portraying the president's longtime adviser as a liar who misled Congress about his outreach efforts to WikiLeaks to protect Mr Trump from looking bad.

Prosecution and defence lawyers delivered opening statements to the jury in federal court in Washington, painting dramatically different portraits of the 67-year-old Republican political operative who has been a friend and ally of Mr Trump for four decades.

Stone "straight up lied" to Congress, prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky told the jury. Defence lawyer Bruce Rogow countered that Stone never "wilfully and intentionally" misled lawmakers.

Stone - a self-described "dirty trickster" and "agent provocateur" - has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election.

"Now you'll ask, why didn't Roger Stone just tell the truth?" Mr Zelinsky asked the jurors. "The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad. The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump."

In the months leading up to the election, WikiLeaks disclosed numerous emails - stolen from Democrats by Russian state-backed hackers, according to US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller - that proved embarrassing to Mr Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The first witness called by prosecutors was a former FBI agent who presented evidence that Stone was in frequent contact with top Trump campaign officials including strategist Steve Bannon and chairman Paul Manafort about when WikiLeaks might release more emails damaging the Clinton campaign.

Prosecutors noted that Stone, in sworn testimony to the Intelligence Committee, denied that these communications ever occurred. Stone placed several calls to then-candidate Mr Trump that were timed around significant developments concerning WikiLeaks.

The Democratic-led Intelligence Committee is spearheading the House impeachment inquiry against Mr Trump over his July request that Ukraine investigate a Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Mr Zelinsky said the prosecution's case rests on five false statements Stone made to the committee related to Wiki-Leaks and its founder, Julian Assange. In addition to lying about his communications with Trump campaign figures, Mr Zelinsky said Stone made multiple other false statements including claiming a radio host named Randy Credico was his only intermediary with WikiLeaks when in fact he had a second source in conservative author Jerome Corsi.

In one July 2016 email shown to jurors, Stone told Mr Corsi "get to Assange!" in London and "get the pending WikiLeaks emails".

Stone, according to the prosecution, later tried to tamper with Mr Credico's testimony and urged him to "do a 'Frank Pentangeli'" - a reference to a character in the film 'The Godfather Part II' who recants his testimony to Congress about a mobster amid witness intimidation.

Mr Credico is due to testify later in the trial, which could run at least two weeks.

The defence urged jurors to consider Stone's state of mind at the time he was speaking to the Intelligence Committee.

Mr Rogow read from a letter Stone's lawyers received from the committee that said the interview would cover topics including Russian cyber activities and potential leaks between Moscow and political campaign officials.

"There's no mention of WikiLeaks. There's no mention of Assange," Mr Rogow said.

Mr Rogow also disputed the notion that Stone ever had any intermediary with Mr Assange, saying Mr Credico was trying to pump himself up and make himself a "bigger man" than he truly was.

Irish Independent

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