Prosecutors in the trial of Roger Stone told jurors Wednesday that the longtime Donald Trump confidant repeatedly lied to Congress “because the truth looked bad” for the president.
Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster, is accused of testifying falsely to lawmakers about his attempts to communicate with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He is also charged with tampering with witnesses and obstructing a House Intelligence Committee investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
Stone was indicted in January as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral tampering. Mueller found that Russia tried to help Trump’s candidacy, but there wasn’t enough evidence to support criminal charges that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.
“The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told jurors in a Washington courtroom.
Zelinsky, a veteran of Mueller’s team, cast the case in stark and simple terms. Stone, he said, categorically denied any written communication with anyone regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Then Zelinsky showed half a dozen mails and text message with Stone directly discussing Assange with different people. One email, asking an associate to try and contact Assange, came an hour after Stone and then-candidate Trump spoke on the phone.
Government lawyers later showed several interviews where Stone said he had “back channel communication” with Assange and that they had “communicated through a trusted mutual friend.”
Defense lawyer Bruce Rogow didn’t deny that Stone had said things that were untrue before the House committee. Rogow described his own client as a natural braggart whose claims of insider information didn’t match reality.
“He did brag about his ability to try to find out what was going on,” Rogow said. “There was no intermediary between Mr. Stone and Julian Assange. It’s made up stuff.”
Rogow repeatedly focused on Stone’s “state of mind” and intentions heading into the hearing. He contended that lawmakers misled Stone into thinking the hearing would focus solely on Russian interference, then ambushed him with a host of questions about Wikileaks.
“We think the evidence will show that there was no corrupt intent in whatever was said or done by Mr. Stone,” Rogow said.
Zelinsky said jurors would hear testimony from Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, and from Rick Gates, the associate of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.