WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican political operative Roger Stone undermined the effectiveness of the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by repeatedly and deliberately lying under oath to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign avoid embarrassment, prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments at his trial Wednesday.
Defense attorneys countered that Stone had done nothing deliberately illegal and claimed the government's case was built on conjecture, leaps of logic and unreliable witnesses.
Stone, 67, was indicted in January as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian electoral tampering. A veteran Republican political operative and longtime Trump confidant, Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers about his attempts to communicate with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, tampering with a witness and obstructing a House Intelligence Committee investigation into whether Trump’s Republican presidential campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Thursday after about a week of testimony.
If convicted, Stone could face up to 20 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis said Stone lied to protect the Trump campaign from embarrassment. Several witnesses have highlighted how campaign officials were eager to take advantage of the more than 19,000 emails that had been hacked by Russia from the Democratic National Committee and were being released in batches by WikiLeaks in the months before the election.
Steve Bannon, who served as the campaign’s chief executive, testified that Stone had boasted about his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, alerting the campaign to pending new batches of damaging emails. Campaign officials saw Stone as the “access point” to WikiLeaks, he said.
As a result, the campaign looked to Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks and learn more about the content and timing of the upcoming email releases.
“Roger Stone knew that if this information came out, it would look really bad before his longtime friend Donald Trump, so he lied to the committee,” Kravis said. "He not only tried but succeeded in impeding the committee’s investigation.”
Defense attorney Bruce Rogow dismissed the attempts to contact Assange as standard operating procedure for any political campaign.
“There was nothing illegal about the campaign being interested in the information coming out,” he said. "Of course they were interested in the WikiLeaks information.”
Rogow also focused on the limits of the government's knowledge. For example, he noted that the government had evidence of multiple phone calls between Stone and different campaign officials, including Trump himself. But there was no evidence of what was actually said during those calls.
“Why would a decision be made on this kind of thin, very thin ... is it even evidence,” he told jurors.
Regarding witness tampering, Rogow brushed aside the dozens of emails and text messages in which Stone urged liberal radio host Randy Credico to refuse to testify before Congress or assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Stone had told the House Intelligence Committee that Credico was his back-channel connection to Assange — something Credico repeatedly denied.
Rogow characterized Stone's frequently profane and threatening messages and emails to Credico as a byproduct of the strange long-term working relationship between two deeply eccentric men from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
“These two guys tampered with one another for 20 years over all kinds of crazy things,” he said. “That’s the way these two guys operated.”
Credico eventually did cite the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify. But Rogow proposed an alternate theory — that the talk show host and activist didn't want to "ruin his reputation is the liberal community" by revealing that he had been working with Stone and, by proxy, with the Trump campaign.
In their final statement, government attorneys said Rogow had tried to complicate and muddy what was ultimately an extremely simple case: Stone had repeatedly lied to Congress and the evidence was absolutely clear
“That’s the beautiful thing about this case. The paper here doesn’t lie,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael John Marando. “The documents do not lie.”