Lawyers delivered closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of Roger Stone, a longtime Republican political operative and confidant of President Donald Trump accused of lying to Congress about his interactions with the president’s 2016 campaign and his connections to WikiLeaks.
Stone pleaded not guilty in January to a seven-count indictment of lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Thursday.
Stone and his lawyers have questioned prosecutors’ motives for pursuing the case against him, accusing them of trying to exact political retribution against Stone for his association with Trump.
Stone was the last person to be indicted by Robert S. Mueller III’s special counsel team. Trump routinely dismissed Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference as a “witch hunt” and “hoax.”
But prosecutors argued Stone’s alleged lies to the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 26, 2017, obstructed the congressional panel’s separate probe into Russian election interference and led lawmakers to issue incorrect conclusions.
In its final report, the committee concluded there was “no evidence” Stone had any advanced knowledge about WikiLeaks’ releases of the hacked Democratic emails. That’s because Stone’s repeated lies prevented the committee from obtaining that evidence, prosecutors said.
“The committee never saw that evidence, so the committee’s report is not accurate,” they said.
In their closing argument Wednesday, prosecutors painted a portrait of a cynical, power-hungry bully who thought he could intimidate those who might expose his lies into silence.
“Why did Roger Stone do these things?” prosecutors asked the jury. “Because he knew that … if this information came out … it would look really bad for his longtime associate Donald Trump,” they added referring to Stone trying to coordinate the release of damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to WikiLeaks.
Stone’s defense team argued in its own closing argument that he had no reason to lie to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 as they probed Russian election interference because Trump had already won, and Stone did nothing illegal in his self-proclaimed interactions with WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors pushed back, arguing there was an ongoing federal investigation at the time looking into whether Trump campaign associates had colluded with Russia in 2016. Stone knew it would harm Trump’s political standing if it came out that an informal adviser to his campaign, who communicated frequently with Trump himself, had been in touch with Assange, who Democratic officials had accused of coordinating with Russian hackers, prosecutors said.
“The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Mr. Trump,” so “Stone lied,” prosecutors said.
In the weeks and months leading up to Election Day 2016, WikiLeaks published troves of hacked emails from employees at the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as from the Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
U.S. intelligence officials unanimously agree the Russian government, led by President Vladimir Putin, orchestrated those hacks and later shoveled the emails to WikiLeaks for publication.
Before the release of those emails, on Aug. 2, 2016, Stone received an email from conservative writer Jerome Corsi that WikiLeaks planned to publish emails that would damage Clinton’s campaign. WikiLeaks planned to release two separate tranches of emails, one in the summer, and one in October, Corsi wrote.
Over roughly the next two weeks, Stone publicly claimed on radio and television to have a “mutual acquaintance,” “intermediary,” and “back-channel communication” to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and predicted the email releases.
After initially refusing to identify to the intelligence panel his intermediary to Assange, Stone later wrote to lawmakers that it was radio host and comedian Randy Credico.
That is one of the central lies Stone told the committee, prosecutors said. It wasn’t until late August — after Stone’s slate of public statements — that Stone and Credico substantively discussed WikiLeaks for the first time.
When Stone gave his public statements in early August about having an Assange intermediary, “he [was] talking about the author of the Aug. 2 email. He [was] talking about Jerome Corsi,” prosecutors said.
Stone again lied to lawmakers when he said he did not have any written communications with his back-channel to Assange. “He’s not an email guy,” Stone testified.
“Are you kidding me?” an incredulous prosecutor said in his closing argument, before reminding the jury the government had shown them more than 1,500 of Stone’s emails and texts with Credico and Corsi from August 2016 through September 2017.
Prosecutor said Stone also lied to lawmakers when he denied that he communicated with Trump’s campaign team about his back-channel to Assange.
In fact, he was “the campaign’s WikiLeaks access point,” they said, citing testimony from former Trump campaign officials Rick Gates and Steve Bannon who testified Stone kept them regularly abreast of his interactions with WikiLeaks and had frequent phone calls with then-candidate Trump.
Finally, prosecutors said, Stone lied when he testified before the Intelligence Committee that he never asked his intermediary to request information from WikiLeaks.
They showed the jury six emails and texts Stone sent Credico over a one-week period in September 2016 asking him to ask Assange to procure damaging emails about Clinton’s handling of Libya policy while she was secretary of State.
Less than a week after Stone falsely identified Credico to Congress as his back-channel to WikiLeaks, he sent Credico a doctored copy of his committee letter to Credico as a signal for the radio host to conform to his story, prosecutors said.
Stone later texted Credico to do a “Frank Pentangeli” and lie to lawmakers by pretending he didn’t remember how events transpired between himself and Stone. Frank Pentangeli is a fictional character in “The Godfather Part II” who lies to Congress about his relationship with the film’s main character and mob boss, Michael Corleone.
“That is witness tampering, plain and simple,” the prosecutor said.
Credico repeatedly told Stone that Stone’s testimony to the Intelligence Committee that Credico was the back-channel to Assange was false and indicated that he would not perjure himself for Stone.
Stone responded by threatening to file a bar complaint against his friend and former Assange lawyer Margaret Kunstler.
“Every time” Credico tried to get in touch with Stone telling him he falsely testified to Congress, Stone responded with a “vulgarity, an insult, or a threat,” prosecutors said Wednesday.