It’s nearly witching hour for Roger Stone’s defense team.
Lawyers for the longtime Donald Trump associate fighting charges he lied to Congress during its 2016 Russia investigation have yet to articulate how they plan to make their case during Stone’s Washington, D.C., trial.
But that will change Wednesday when they deliver their opening arguments before a jury that only needs one defector to spare the 67-year-old Stone from conviction and a potential jail sentence. Stone is also facing charges that he tampered with a witness in the congressional probe.
So far, Stone’s attorneys have mostly argued that special counsel Robert Mueller selectively targeted the GOP provocateur because of his politics — a charge Stone trumpeted on social media before being hit with a gag order. They’re expected to spell out a much more expansive defense as Stone’s trial gets rolling this week. The case could stretch all the way into the Thanksgiving holiday.
During jury selection Tuesday, Stone’s lawyers objected to seating people who were government employees or expressed negative feelings about the president. But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the case, dismissed most of the attorneys’ complaints. Instead, she quizzed potential jurors about whether they could set aside any opinions to render an impartial verdict.
Still to be determined is whether Stone actually takes the witness stand in his defense. It’d be a risky move that opens him up to cross-examination by government prosecutors, but the defendant did it once before during a February hearing where he apologized for an Instagram post showing a gun’s crosshairs above a picture of the judge’s head.
“Roger is many things, but he’s no fool,” said Morgan Pehme, a co-producer and co-director of the 2017 Netflix documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone.” Pehme said it was “hard to imagine he takes the stand.”
One thing was clear on Wednesday morning: Stone is in the building. The defendant told a reporter in the courthouse security line that he was “feeling better” after falling ill on Tuesday and leaving early while jury selection continued without him. He blamed something he ate for breakfast.
So far, Stone’s lawyers haven’t had much luck lodging a series of complaints.
Jackson ruled in August against Stone’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds he was selectively prosecuted, saying their argument was “made up out of whole cloth.”
His lawyers also didn’t get very far after raising questions about whether the FBI leaked word to CNN of its plans for a pre-dawn arrest at Stone’s South Florida home in January. The network denied the charge and explained that it was staking out Stone’s house based on an educated hunch that an indictment was imminent.
Stone’s lawyers have also been kept busy trying to keep their client quiet after a series of controversial social media posts got him into hot water, including the one that raised alarm he was threatening Jackson. The judge accepted Stone’s in-court apology at the time, but later barred him from social media over other Instagram posts criticizing media coverage of the case.
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