Roger Stone is denied a new trial over biased juror claim

Erik Larson

President Donald Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone is a step closer to prison after a judge rejected his plea for a new trial – a victory for embattled prosecutors and jurors who were widely attacked by the president.

The decision was issued Thursday in Washington by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who rejected Stone’s claim that the foreperson for the jury that convicted him was dishonest and politically biased.

Stone’s request “is a tower of indignation,” wrote Jackson, a Barack Obama appointee who was also attacked by the president on Twitter. “But at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up.”

Roger Stone accompanied by his wife Nydia Stone, left, arrives for his sentencing at U.S. District Court in Washington in this Feb. 20, 2020, file photo.

Stone has two weeks to report to prison, or file an appeal, Jackson said. Stone’s lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, said in an email that the legal team is reviewing Jackson’s decision and will determine how to proceed in the coming days.

Jackson sentenced Stone in February to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress and tampering with a witness to protect Trump. He was the last person charged during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has previously hinted that he may pardon Stone and has commented frequently that he thinks his ally is being treated unfairly by prosecutors and the judge. The day Stone was sentenced, the president ruled out immediate action though, saying he wanted “the process to be played out.”

The outspoken Stone did regain his voice as a result of Thursday’s ruling, which lifted a gag order that prohibited him from discussing the case due to previous inappropriate behavior.

After his sentencing, Stone almost immediately requested a new trial, arguing the foreperson was a Democrat who was opposed to Trump and called the president racist on social media. Stone also argued the juror had lied on a questionnaire to hide her bias and get on the panel to undermine the case.

Trump weighed in on the case on Twitter as well.

But Jackson rejected those claims entirely.

“The court finds that the foreperson did not answer questions falsely on the questionnaire or during voir dire” and “she did not engage in misconduct during the trial,” the judge wrote in her ruling.

The foreperson identified herself after the trial and her seemingly anti-Trump social media posts came to light, prompting Stone’s legal team to argue the new information contradicted the juror’s claim before the trial that she could be impartial.

But Jackson said Stone’s lawyers could have easily discovered the information before trial, “by posing a few pointed follow-up questions in person, or by using the same search engines that quickly brought the public social media posts to light the day the juror identified herself to the rest of the world.”

She also mocked the defense for citing a 20-year-old court ruling to justify their argument that it would have been too difficult for them to “scour public records” to verify the juror’s statements about her political views before the trial.

“An effort to uncover social media activity would not have required the lawyers to pore over dusty family court records in the basement of a county courthouse,” Jackson said. “All they had to do was sit and type her name into an internet search engine on a laptop.”

Brad Moss discusses Stone’s push for a new trial in a Bloomberg Law podcast.

Jackson said the guilty findings against the flamboyant Republican operative were overwhelming, and based largely on his own communications, making it difficult to argue that juror bias had anything to do with it. At his sentencing hearing, Jackson said the evidence of his lies could not be refuted.

A lawyer for the anonymous jurors also made that case, saying in post-trial court filings that Stone was recklessly arguing that jurors should suffer political intimidation in high-profile cases.

Jackson expressed skepticism of Stone’s claim early on, saying at a Feb. 25 hearing that the foreperson could have personal opinions about Trump or his policies while still remaining impartial in deliberating criminal charges against Stone. Three jurors testified in a rare post-trial hearing and said there was nothing unusual or biased about their deliberations.

The judge had implicitly criticized Trump for attempting to derail the sentencing and she praised the work of four prosecutors who quit the case after senior Justice Department officials retracted their recommendation for a harsh sentence.