Roger Stone, Political Operative And Trump Aide, Guilty In False-Statements Trial

Nov 15, 2019
Originally published on November 18, 2019 2:10 pm

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

Roger Stone, a veteran Republican political operative and longtime confidant of Donald Trump's, was found guilty of all counts by a federal jury in Washington, D.C., on Friday in his false statements and obstruction trial.

The verdict, announced after two days of deliberations by the jury of nine women and three men, adds another chapter to Stone's long and colorful history as a self-described dirty trickster.

It also means Stone, who is 67, could face years in prison, even as a first-time offender. Stone, dressed in a suit, white pocket square and dark tie, stood impassively as the verdict was read out but did not speak.

He was surrounded by TV cameras as he walked out of the courthouse and got into a waiting black SUV before driving off. His sentencing is set for Feb. 6.

Stone was arrested in January at his home in Florida on charges brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation.

Stone pleaded not guilty to making false statements, obstruction and witness tampering. But even under indictment, he remained true to his bombastic, combative style.

Shortly after his arrest, he claimed that the authorities had shown up at his house "with a greater force than was used to take down Bin Laden, or El Chapo, or Pablo Escobar, to terrorize my wife and my dogs--it's unconscionable."

He later said the FBI agents were very polite.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Stone verdict or a possible pardon from Trump, who has known Stone since the 1980s. But Trump weighed in on Twitter with an accusation that the system had been unfair.

Prosecutors' case

In the indictment, Stone was accused of lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to discover what WikiLeaks planned to do with thousands of hacked Democratic emails it had in its possession.

The House committee was conducting its own investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

WikiLeaks ultimately did release the emails during the campaign, which became a major talking point of the election that Trump went on to win.

During the six-day trial, the government presented emails, text messages and Stone's own public statements to try to prove its case that Stone had lied to Congress to hide his efforts to contact WikiLeaks — including by telling lawmakers that he had no records concerning hacked emails or the anti-secrecy group.

Stone's defense lawyers argued that Stone didn't intend to lie to the committee. They also claimed that the investigation against him was misguided and that Stone was being targeted for political reasons.

Stone himself did not take the stand during the trial, and his attorneys did not call any witnesses on his behalf. They did, however, play an audio with portions of his 2017 testimony to House lawmakers.

Stone was the second close political adviser of Trump's brought to trial on charges by Mueller's team.

The other was Stone's former business partner, Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 in a tax and bank fraud trial in Virginia. Manafort later pleaded guilty to other charges in a related case brought by Mueller in Washington, D.C. He is now in prison.

Six others — including Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen and Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to charges that arose from the special counsel's probe.

Mueller's office also brought charges against more than two dozen Russian nationals and three Russian entities.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more than four decades, Roger Stone has been a player in American politics. He rose to fame as a Republican political operative and self-described dirty trickster. He served as an informal adviser to Donald Trump for years, including during the 2016 presidential campaign. And today in federal court in Washington, D.C., a jury found Roger Stone guilty of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress. These convictions stemmed from a case brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation. NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is back in the studio to tell us more.

Welcome back.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: You were at the courthouse where the trial took place. What did you see today?

LUCAS: Well, the jury actually began its deliberations yesterday. This was a six-day trial. And then just before noon today, they returned their verdict. The nine women and three men on this jury found Stone guilty on all seven counts - so one count each of obstruction and witness tampering and then five counts of making false statements to Congress. Stone was, of course, in the courtroom today. He was dressed in a suit, had a pocket square, dark tie, some glasses. After the jury filed in, Stone was asked to stand, put his glasses on and listen to the jury as one count after another came back guilty.

Now, for a man who is known for his outsized personality, he showed no emotion. He was impassive as this happened. When he left the courthouse, he was surrounded by this gaggle of cameras. He got into a black SUV and left. He did not speak at all. There is still a gag order in him on this case, at least for now ahead of his sentencing.

CORNISH: So he's prevented from speaking. Remind us how he got here because as we mentioned, the roots of this are in that investigation into Russian interference in the election.

LUCAS: Right. So back in 2017, House lawmakers were investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Stone testified before Congress as part of that. This case against him stems from that appearance before Congress, and in that testimony, Stone lied to lawmakers about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the campaign. He wanted to find out from WikiLeaks what the group was up to, what it planned to do with thousands of Democratic emails that it had in its possession. These are emails, of course, that the U.S. government says were hacked by Russia. And WikiLeaks ultimately did publish those emails during the campaign, and they became a big part of the discussion of that campaign. As the government ultimately proved at trial, Stone also tried to intimidate a witness to not testify truthfully to Congress. All of these actions amounted to obstructing the House investigation. And prosecutors, interestingly, during the trial said that Stone did all of this in an effort to protect Trump.

CORNISH: What about Stone's attorneys? What was the defense, the case they made to the jury?

LUCAS: So they argued that Stone never intended to lie to Congress. They said that there was nothing wrong with trying to find out what WikiLeaks was up to. At root, they argued that, basically, this case against Stone was misguided. Stone himself did not testify, and interestingly, his lawyers didn't call any witnesses on his behalf.

Now, there has long been talk that Stone has been angling for a pardon from the president. These two, of course, have known each other since the 1980s. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about a possible pardon. The president, however, did take to Twitter to comment on the verdict in Stone's case. He complained about Stone being found guilty by a jury, and he asked why Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey, Special Counsel Robert Mueller - why those three and others aren't going to jail.

CORNISH: I want to come back to the convicted here because the Mueller investigation is closed. So what kind of impact can this verdict have - this verdict on Roger Stone have for the Russia probe in general?

LUCAS: So the Russia investigation is closed. There are a number of investigations that spun out of it that we know of from the Mueller report. Some of those may still be ongoing. But Stone was the last person charged as part of this investigation. He was the second person to be found guilty in a jury trial. The other was Paul Manafort. There are a number of others who pleaded guilty. As for Stone, he'll be back in court in the first week of February for sentencing.

CORNISH: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.