Judge sets November 5 trial date for Roger Stone
Roger Stone will go to trial in early November in Washington on charges that he lied about his efforts to secretly contact WikiLeaks in 2016, a federal judge decided Thursday.
The longtime Donald Trump adviser’s trial is now scheduled to start November 5 and is likely to last about two weeks, said Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in DC.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering. He was released on bail following his arrest seven weeks ago.
The trial is set nine months from now partly because of the amount of evidence Stone’s team must piece through and may argue about before the trial. Prosecutors have turned over nine terabytes of data to the defense team so far, they said in court.
“We could pile it as high as the Washington monument twice,” Stone’s attorney Robert Buschel told the judge.
Stone appeared before Jackson — just a day after she sentenced his former lobbying colleague Paul Manafort to prison — for a status hearing to hash out pretrial issues and set a trial date.
But a question of whether Stone broke his gag order — with the 2019 release of his book about the 2016 election in which he attacked the Mueller investigation — has hung over his recent proceedings.
The judge left that issue unresolved on Thursday at the brief hearing.
“I really haven’t had the opportunity since the time of the filing to study the exhibits in any detail, and I’ll continue to review them,” Jackson said in court.
The judge, in previous written orders, had clearly been unhappy with him about the book’s availability, and has told him he’s crossed a line that she already warned him should not be crossed.
Stone was arrested in a predawn raid at his Florida home in January.
The case is being handled jointly by the Mueller prosecutors and by prosecutors from the DC US Attorney’s Office.
While Stone was initially allowed to speak publicly about his case, Jackson slapped him with an expected but limited gag order. Minutes before it came in on February 15, Stone realized that the book, which was already available through booksellers, could irk the judge.
Over Presidents’ Day weekend, Stone promoted the book online, and also posted a threatening photo of the judge with crosshairs over her shoulder on Instagram. She quickly demanded that he come from his home in Florida to court in Washington, and she gave him strict orders on February 21 not to speak about his case, the court or Mueller again while his charges are pending. In the hours and days after that hearing, Stone’s legal team debated how the book might fit with the revised, stricter gag order. They hadn’t raised the issue with her at the hearing.
“Any violation of this order will be a basis for revoking your bond and detaining you pending trial,” Jackson told Stone when she set the stricter gag order. “So I want to be clear: Today I gave you a second chance. But this is not baseball. There will not be a third chance.”
Stone’s team then waited a week to inform the court of the paperback release of his book about President Donald Trump’s election.
“I now find myself on Crooked Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s hit list because I’ve advised Donald Trump for the past forty years,” Stone says in the new introduction, written this year before his arrest. “Clearly, I was targeted for strictly political reasons.”
Jackson so far has slammed Stone’s team for failing to tell her about the book sooner and suggested its belated court filing appeared designed to drive book sales — which have been minimal, according to emails from the publisher.
“There is no question that the order prohibited and continues to prohibit the defendant from making any public statements, using any medium, concerning the investigation,” Jackson wrote to Stone last week, after his legal team first told her about the book’s availability. “Any costs or consequences that will be occasioned by the court’s reiteration of this clear requirement at this late date are also solely attributable to the defendant.”
Responding to the court on Monday, Stone’s team said it would have been “a bit awkward” to mention the book during the gag order hearing. The legal team insisted that Stone never intended to violate the gag order or hide the book release from Jackson. “Having been scolded, we seek only to defend Mr. Stone and move ahead without further ado,” they wrote.
Emails from February between Stone’s attorneys and his publisher revealed their concern that Jackson could decide to throw Stone behind bars for violating the gag order.
“The mere publication of the new portions of the book could land Roger in jail for contempt of the judge’s order,” wrote Grant Smith, one of Stone’s attorneys, in an email that his legal team included in its latest filing to the judge.
On Thursday, Jackson noted that Stone’s attorneys, according to their emails, were intending to get on top of the issue of the book release after she set the gag order. Still, she reminded Stone he must follow her orders, and his lawyers, who are from Florida, must follow rules of the Washington, DC-based court.
“There’s no exception for awkward,” she said. “I expect compliance,” Jackson added.
A prosecutor from the special counsel’s office pointed out to the judge that some of the defense team’s explanations about the book release were inconsistent.
The court hearing Thursday drew far fewer people than Manafort’s the day before — though one prosecutor who doesn’t typically attend Stone’s hearings, Andrew Weissmann, came to watch.
Weissmann delivered the closing arguments at Manafort’s sentencing Wednesday and had largely led that key prosecution under Mueller.
After the Stone hearing, the special counsel’s office confirmed Weissmann plans to leave the Justice Department “in the near future” — in yet another possible sign that the Mueller probe is winding down.