A jury has convicted US President Donald Trump’s adviser Roger Stone, finding the long-time Republican political operative guilty on seven criminal counts of lying to congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
The verdict, in a trial arising from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, is not only a blow to Stone but renews scrutiny on then-candidate Trump’s activities at a time when he faces an impeachment inquiry that could derail his presidency.
The 67-year-old veteran Republican operative – a self-described “dirty trickster” and “agent provocateur” – was charged earlier this year with obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the US House of Representatives intelligence committee during its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Stone’s colourful trial in federal court in Washington was as much about the rough-and-tumble world of politics, as it was about hair-splitting legal arguments, such as whether Stone truly lied about WikiLeaks since that website was never explicitly mentioned in the intelligence committee’s publicly-stated parameters of its probe.
The trial featured multiple references to The Godfather Part II, a Bernie Sanders impression, and testimony by political heavyweights including former Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon and former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates, each of whom said they believed Stone had inside information about when WikiLeaks might release more damaging emails about then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Prosecutors accused Stone of telling lawmakers five different lies related to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, which in 2016 dumped a series of damaging emails about Clinton that US intelligence officials and Special Counsel Robert Mueller later concluded had been stolen by Russian hackers.
Some of those lies relate to the existence of certain texts or emails while others pertain to Stone’s conversations with Trump campaign officials and a supposed “intermediary” with WikiLeaks in early August 2016 whom Stone identified to lawmakers as being comedian Randy Credico.
Prosecutors said Stone did not actually start talking to Credico about WikiLeaks until later that month, and the actual person to whom he was referring in testimony as an “intermediary” was conservative author Jerome Corsi whom Stone dispatched in an email to “Get to Assange!” and get the emails.
Corsi was not called as a witness in the trial.
Stone, a close Trump ally who famously has the face of former president Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, was also accused of tampering with a witness, Credico, when the comedian was summoned to testify before congress and speak with the FBI.
Both Stone and Credico, who took the stand in the case, have since said that Credico did not act as a WikiLeaks back channel.
In emails and texts, the jury saw messages that Stone had sent Credico that included comments like “Prepare to die,” “You’re a rat. A stoolie,” and “Stonewall it. Plead the Fifth. Anything to save the plan,” in a reference to a famous Nixon Watergate quote.
He also repeatedly urged Credico to “do a Frank Pentangeli” – a reference to a Godfather II character who recants his congressional testimony against a mobster amid intimidation.
A lawyer for Stone dismissed the Pentangeli reference, saying Credico had done impressions of the character in the past, and said the “odious language” they used was just part of how they interacted.