Washington — In closing arguments Wednesday, the prosecution portrayed former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone as a liar trying to protect himself and help then-candidate Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential race at any cost.
“Roger Stone does not get to pick and choose which facts he thinks are important and lie about the rest of them,” said prosecutor Jonathan Kravis in the closing arguments of a trial that ended a week earlier than expected. “Roger Stone sees a chance to help the Trump campaign, and he jumps at it.”
Stone was indicted on seven charges of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction. He is accused of collaborating with WikiLeaks to release Democrats’ emails that were hacked by Russia in order to damage Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent — and he is accused of lying about it. He is also charged with tampering with a witness, radio personality Randy Credico, pressing him not to cooperate with a congressional investigation that involved Stone.
When you have “a witness who goes before a congressional committee and tell them to lie, that is witness tampering,” said Kravis.
Prosecutors presented evidence throughout the trial that Stone tried to get information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, specifically asking for details about the hacked emails that WikiLeaks published in order to influence the 2016 election.
But the defense team claimed Stone lacked corrupt intent in his words and actions and never actually had access to WikiLeaks.
“I guess you can say Stone played the campaign, letting them believe that he had some connection” to WikiLeaks, said defense attorney Bruce Rogow in his closing arguments.
Several high-profile witnesses were called to testify, including former deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates and, a former Trump campaign chief executive and White House senior counselor.
Roger Stone himself, however, chose not to take the stand.
Gates, who testified on Tuesday as part of a cooperation agreement with the government,to charges stemming from the of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s role in it. His testimony in a separate case helped to convict Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, of conspiracy against the United States.
On the stand for the prosecution, Bannon pointed to Stone as the apparent point of access between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
According to Bannon, Stone is the only person affiliated with the Trump campaign who claimed to be in contact with WikiLeaks. In August 2016, Stone emailed Bannon to say that it was possible for Trump to win the election, and said, “I know how to win, but ain’t pretty.” Under oath, Bannon said he interpreted this to mean that Stone was talking about campaign “dirty tricks” and “opposition research.”
In his earlier grand jury testimony, Bannon had said, “I think it was generally believed that the [Trump campaign’s] access point [to Assange] would be Roger Stone.”
Stone’s social media appears to foster that impression.
On Sunday, October 2, 2016, Stone tweeted, “Wednesday @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.” Two days later, on Tuesday, October 4, Assange said documents would subsequently be released every week and that some of the documents would be related to the presidential election. Three days after Stone’s tweet, on October 7, WikiLeaks released the emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. (This happened soon after theof Mr. Trump’s vulgar language about grabbing women was published.)
When asked why he emailed Stone on October 4, 2016, Bannon replied, “Because Roger was the guy who knew about WikiLeaks and knew Julian Assange.”
After WikiLeaks released Podesta’s hacked emails in October, a Trump official messaged Stone to say, “Well done.”
Stone’s defense, however, points out that it’s unknown what that was in reference to.
“Could have been that he went to a steakhouse and wanted a steak ‘well-done,'” said Rogow.
Lying to Congress
The prosecution outlined lies that Roger Stone allegedly told about his written communications, his conversations with Mr. Trump and his involvement with WikiLeaks.
Stone told a House Intelligence Committee that Credico was his only backchannel to Assange. Credico, however, testified that Stone bragged to him about having his own backchannel to Assange. Prosecutors believe it was another Stone associate, Jerome Corsi.
Stone claimed he hadn’t asked anyone to do anything for him regarding WikiLeaks. But emails showed Stone asked Corsi and Credico to pass along his request for more updates to Assange.
Stone’s defense team argued that his actions lacked corrupt intent because Stone voluntarily testified before the House Intelligence Committee and urged jurors to consider his “state of mind” given that the scope of the congressional hearing was Russia — not Assange.
Furthermore, said Rogow, “There could be no sensible motive in trying to protect the campaign when it was long since over, and Mr. Trump was the president of the United States.”
Stone allegedly threatened to harm both Credico — whom he was accused of using to communicate with Assange — and his dog if he didn’t plead the fifth and refuse to testify in a congressional investigation.
The jurors were shown texts from Stone telling Credico to “Do your Frank Pentangeli” in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the movie “The Godfather Part II,” Frank Pentangeli lies to Congress, pretending not to know anything incriminating about the Corleone family.
Stone also texted Credico, “I guarantee you are the only one who gets indicted for perjury if you’re stupid enough to testify.”
The prosecution said this was evidence that Stone was trying to shield information from Congress.
“Roger Stone is a political strategist,” Kavis said to the jury. “He knows how this is going to look [when] the committee was looking into the Russian interference” in the 2016 election.
But the defense framed the story differently.
In his closing arguments, Rogow said, “Stone and Credico for years have joked about the Godfather” and “this is nothing malignant.”
Throughout his trial, several controversial people came to support Stone, including alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes, founder of Proud Boys, an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.
On the— before he left early because he said he had food poisoning — a person outside of the courtroom yelled, “You’ll get to see Manafort soon,” referring to the former Trump campaign chairman who was sentenced by the judge in this trial to more than six years in prison.
Stone, who has filed to have his charges acquitted, faces up to 20 years in prison. A verdict could come as soon as Thursday.
The conclusion of Stone’s trial coincided with a new and more public phase of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, who is accused of seeking a politically charged quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine and pressuring him to launch investigations that could benefit his reelection campaign.
Clare Hymes contributed reporting.