WASHINGTON – The prosecution in the trial of Roger Stone on Wednesday painted President Donald Trump’s longtime adviser as a liar in a criminal case stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe that detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
After a 12-member jury was selected, opening statements began in the trial in federal court in Washington. The 67-year-old veteran Republican political operative — a self-described “dirty trickster” and “agent provocateur” — has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Stone has been a friend and ally of Trump for some 40 years.
“Now you’ll ask, why didn’t Roger Stone just tell the truth?” prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky asked the jurors. “The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad.”
“The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Zelinsky added.
Zelinsky accused Stone of five categories of lies. Zelinsky also told the jurors the case was not about politics nor is it about who hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016. U.S. intelligence agencies and Mueller concluded the hacking was done by Russia.
The defense will get its chance to deliver an opening statement after the prosecutions completes its presentation. The opening statements follow the selection of a 12-person jury in the trial, with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson presiding.
Stone is accused of lying to the Intelligence Committee about the Trump campaign’s efforts to obtain emails hacked by Russia that were published by the Wikileaks website to harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The Democratic-led panel is now spearheading the House impeachment inquiry against Trump over his request that Ukraine investigate a Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
“Stone regularly updated people on the Trump campaign at the senior levels about whatever information he thought he had about Wikileaks,” Zelinsky said, adding that Stone “was going to the very top of the Trump campaign — the CEO of the Trump campaign — a man named Steve Bannon.”
The charges against Stone stem from Mueller’s investigation, although the case is now being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Mueller wrapped up his 22-month investigation in March.
Mueller documented Russian efforts to boost Trump’s candidacy and led to criminal charges against several Trump advisers and campaign aides. Stone and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign adviser and a former business partner of Stone, were the only two from this group not to plead guilty.
Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury last year and is currently incarcerated after being sentenced to 7½ years in prison.
Many of the prospective jurors who were questioned by the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers during the selection process on Tuesday expressed dislike for Trump — not surprising given that more than 90 percent of voters in the U.S. capital cast their ballots for Clinton in 2016.
The judge said negative views on the Republican president or working for the government could not be used to justify striking prospective jurors from serving in the trial unless they felt those views might taint their ability to review the evidence fairly and impartially.