Judge seems skeptical toward giving Trump adviser Stone a new trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Tuesday signaled skepticism toward a bid by Roger Stone’s lawyers to win a new trial for President Donald Trump’s longtime adviser based on the jury forewoman’s alleged bias, even as Trump assailed the juror again on Twitter during the hearing.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who last Thursday sentenced Stone to three years and four months in prison, warned defense lawyers and journalists covering the case that the safety of the jurors could be put at risk if their identities are made public.

The veteran Republican operative was convicted by a 12-member jury in November of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.

Jackson appeared to grow frustrated with Stone’s lawyers as they argued for a new trial based on the jury forewoman’s social media comments. One such post linked to an article that referenced Stone’s arrest last year, with the juror writing “brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery,” referring to “lock her up” chants by Trump supporters in 2016 toward his Democratic election opponent Hillary Clinton.

The judge pressed defense attorney Seth Ginsberg for evidence that the juror’s views about the president implied bias against Stone in a criminal trial.

“Let’s get back to the theme of your motion, which is that her views about the president infected her bias against Stone,” Jackson said, pressing Ginsberg to give “legal support” to back up his claims.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the jury forewoman as “tainted,” accusing her of being an “anti-Trump activist.” The Republican president also has attacked the original prosecutors in the case and Jackson herself.

“Any attempt to invade the privacy of the jury or harass and intimidate them is certainly antithetical to our entire system of justice,” Jackson said during the hearing.

Less than an hour later, Trump again criticized the forewoman on Twitter.

“She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!” wrote Trump, who has not ruled out a pardon for Stone.

Trump’s latest Twitter comments came two weeks after U.S. Attorney General William Barr, his own appointee, rebuked the president for prior remarks about the case including assailing the prosecutors for a “miscarriage of justice” after they urged Jackson to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison. The four prosecutors quit the case after Barr and senior Justice Department officials retracted the sentencing recommendation in the wake of Trump’s criticism.

Trump’s fresh attack on the juror came just hours after he lashed out at two members of the U.S. Supreme Court – liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor – and continued a pattern of what his critics call an attempt to politicize the U.S. courts and undermine judicial independence.

The charges against Stone stemmed from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Russian meddling in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. Stone was accused of lying to U.S. lawmakers investigating the Russia election interference.

During the hearing, the judge pressed the defense to prove juror misconduct. Two social media posts they cited referenced Stone, but most involved Trump or Mueller’s investigation.

The defense also pointed to tweets the juror made during the trial that did not reference the Stone case, saying they implied she may have seen media coverage of the trial and feared she had told other jurors about it.

“You don’t have any facts she was reading things she wasn’t supposed to read during the trial?” Jackson asked, to which Ginsberg conceded he lacked any such direct evidence.

At the same time, the judge said, the attacks on the jurors in the case were “unprecedented.”

The jury forewoman also came under fire from Trump after she posted a message on social media defending the prosecutors in the Stone case after they resigned.

Jackson said she intends to call some jurors to the witness stand for questioning about whether they knew of any political bias that tainted the proceedings.

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