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Trial Of Former Trump Associate Roger Stone Gets Underway

Nov 5, 2019
Originally published on November 5, 2019 10:53 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Roger Stone calls himself a political dirty trickster. He's been a fixture of American politics since the Nixon era. These days, Stone is known for serving as an informal adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. And he is now on trial in federal court here in Washington in a case brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

NPR's Ryan Lucas was in the courtroom today. He is here now in the studio.

Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, there.

KELLY: It's been a while since we talked about Roger Stone and this case, so I'll start by reminding people there's a total of seven counts he's facing. Is that right?

LUCAS: That is correct - one count each of obstruction and witness tampering and then five counts of lying to Congress. All of the charges relate to Stone's efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks during the summer and fall of 2016 during the campaign and to find out what WikiLeaks planned to do with hacked Democratic emails that it had in its possession, emails that the U.S. government says were hacked by Russia. And it was WikiLeaks, of course, that ultimately published those emails to great effect during the 2016 campaign.

Now, the indictment alleges that Stone lied to congressional investigators about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks and learn of its plans. Stone has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

KELLY: I mentioned you were in the courtroom today. How did things unfold? What happened?

LUCAS: It was a bit of an odd day in court, to be honest. It was jury selection, so we didn't get to hear from any witnesses today. That doesn't mean, however, that there wasn't any drama. Stone walked into the courtroom this morning arm in arm with his wife, gave her a kiss and then headed to the defense table. But he didn't seem well. He looked a bit ashen.

After lunch, he stood up and told the court he wasn't feeling well. He said he had food poisoning. He asked to be excused. The presiding judge, Amy Berman Jackson, said, sure, no problem. Stone then walked out with a Gatorade bottle in hand. Jury selection then continued without him. And jury selection was actually really interesting, as well.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I'm wondering - we mentioned he's been a fixture in Washington since the Nixon era. I'm assuming a lot of people who were potential jurors had heard of Roger Stone.

LUCAS: People had heard of him. Some of them didn't know that much about him. But politics hung over all of this. Stone's defense team appeared to object to any potential juror who works for the government or has a negative opinion of President Trump. Judge Jackson said, you know, it isn't right to assume that because someone works for the federal government that they're antithetical to Trump. They work for Trump, in the end.

KELLY: Sure.

LUCAS: There were potential jurors who said that they would be unable to set aside their feelings about the president. All sides agreed that they should be struck from the jury pool. I will see that - say, though, that it was really interesting to see how the jury pool was kind of this microcosm of D.C. life. The first potential juror worked for the Obama administration. Two more were lawyers for government agencies.

A lot of the questions that the judge asked the potential jurors did indeed relate to their knowledge of Stone and whether they can be impartial. One woman said she doesn't pay attention to the news. She only watches figure skating on TV. One woman was in her 80s when the judge told her that she was of an age that she could be excused from jury service. The woman happily accepted and then said into the microphone before leaving, age has its privileges, everybody.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK. A colorful day in court and jury selection, I gather, must continue tomorrow. But I mean, I have to ask just briefly, does this all seem a bit overshadowed by the impeachment inquiry at this stage?

LUCAS: Absolutely. Absolutely, it is. But that doesn't mean that this is not an important case. And you know, we may still get a few more interesting factoids about the Trump campaign's efforts to learn what WikiLeaks was up to with the hacked Democratic emails, but we'll find out over the course of the next two or three weeks.

KELLY: NPR's Ryan Lucas reporting.

Thank you.

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