Roger Stone, former campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at the federal courthouse where he is set to be sentenced, in Washington, U.S., February 20, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
A judge Tuesday barred the public from the courtroom during a hearing on Roger Stone’s request for a new trial, saying that tweets by President Donald Trump and others may have raised the risk of harassment to jurors who might be testifying there.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s move came before she began listening to arguments from the Republican operative Stone’s lawyers he deserves a new trial because of alleged misconduct by the forewoman of the jury at his trial last November, which ended in his conviction of seven felony counts.
That forewoman, Tomeka Hart, had posted news stories and other items critical of Trump, a longtime friend of Stone’s, on her social media feeds before she sat on his jury.
While Jackson barred the press and other members from the hearing room in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., she allowed reporters and others to listen to the hearing on an audio feed elsewhere in the courthouse.
Jackson last week sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering.
But she suspended imposing the sentence pending her decision on his request for a new trial.
Even as the hearing got underway, Trump again tweeted about Hart, writing, “There has rarely been a juror so tainted as” her.
“Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch.”
Stone’s lawyers argue that Hart “misled the Court regarding her ability to be unbiased and fair and the juror attempted to cover up evidence that would directly contradict her false claims of impartiality.”
During the hearing Tuesday after the public left the courtroom, Stone’s attorney Seth Ginsberg told Jackson that Hart’s answers to several questions on a jury questionnaire were “at best misleading.”
“It may be that she believed them to be truthful, but she concealed evidence regarding her views that would have been important for the court and the parties to understand her bias,” Ginsberg argued.
When pressed by Jackson, Ginsberg said he considered her answers to be “intentionally” misleading.
Ginsburg pointed to posts by Hart that shared critical stories about Trump and Stone, which he argued “imply a bias” against Stone.
In one post, the foreperson shared an article about Stone, and herself wrote, “brought to you by the lock her up peanut brigade”.
Ginsberg said, “That indicates she did more than pass it along because she thought it was a cute headline.”
The failure of Stone’s lawyers to discover Hart’s social media posts related to Trump before she was placed on the jury without objection by them has raised eyebrows among Stone’s supporters.
The posts came to light only earlier this month when a conservative commentator tweeted about them after Hart publicly identified herself as the jury forewoman in a Facebook post.
Stone’s other defense lawyer Robert Buschel admitted Tuesday that no one on the defense team, which included jury selection consultants, had done a search on the internet for the names of potential jurors once they became known to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“I think it’s a regular practice by trial lawyers these days to Google individuals on the jury panel list, wouldn’t you agree?” Jackson noted.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Jackson first held a hearing on Stone’s motion to open the courtroom to the public for the second hearing on his request for a new trial.
Jackson cited Trump’s Feb. 13 tweet about Hart, in which he wrote that it appeared that the forewoman had “significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department.”
The judge, before ruling that the hearing in Stone’s case should be held in a sealed courtroom, albeit with a public audio feed, also referred to comments by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, the head of far-right conspiracy site Infowars.
Carlson “accused the foreperson of the jury of being an anti-Trump zealot,” Jackson noted.
The judge described a segment on Carlson’s show in which he slammed the juror as biased and broadcast her Twitter handle, according to NBC News.
Such criticisms might put jurors’ safety at risk, Jackson said.
“Individuals who are angry about Mr. Stone’s conviction may choose to take it out on them personally,” she said, NBC reported.
“While judges may have volunteered for their positions, jurors are not volunteers,” Jackson said.
“They are deserving of the public’s respect and they deserve to have their privacy respected.”
On Monday, Jackson had rejected Stone’s motion that she disqualify herself from further involvement in the case — including the question of whether he should be granted another trial.
Stone’s attorneys had argued that Jackson’s impartiality came into question when she said during the sentencing hearing that the jurors in Stone’s case “served with integrity under difficult circumstances.”
Her comments, the defense lawyers argued, show that the judge has prejudged whether Hart — whose anti-Trump social media posts were discovered after Stone was convicted on seven criminal counts — committed misconduct.
Stone was convicted last fall of lying to Congress about his contacts during the 2016 presidential election with the Trump campaign as he sought to get information about emails stolen by Russian agents from eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee.
He also was convicted of trying to tamper with a witness, the comedian Randy Credico, whom he pressured to endorse his lies.
Prosecutors at Stone’s trial said that he kept Trump’s camp aware of what he had learned about WikiLeaks’ plans for releasing the emails, which were embarassing to Clinton and the DNC.
But Stone had told the House committee he had no such conversations with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.
Trump in written answers in late 2018 to then-special counsel Robert Mueller, said, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with” Stone, “nor do I recall Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign.”