Politics & Government

Roger Stone circus folds its tent in South Florida, pitches a new one in D.C. courtroom

It’s showtime for Roger J. Stone Jr., a man who loves the spotlight.

Jury selection begins here on Tuesday for the federal trial of the prominent and controversial South Floridian, a close ally of President Donald Trump.

In the months leading up to his trial, expected to last for two weeks, Stone’s case has taken on an air of a big top circus. He’s been threatened with a gag order, then hit with one in late February after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson took his comments — and an Instagram image of the judge’s face next to rifle crosshairs — as a personal threat.

Later, in a victory for Stone, Judge Jackson nixed the government’s request to play a scene from the movie “The Godfather Part II” for jurors. Just this past weekend, Stone’s supporters rallied in Hialeah, near Miami, to raise money for his legal defense fund.

Weeks earlier, a woman who helped lead a “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong!” fundraiser in Delray Beach pleaded guilty hours after the event to embezzling more than $46,000 in an unrelated case.

For President Trump, the trial could either be a welcome diversion from the impeachment saga or an unhelpful reminder of how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election on the president’s behalf.

Citing the still-in-effect gag order, Stone declined to comment Monday.

Stone is a self-described dirty trickster and a longtime friend and political adviser to Trump. Decades after working for Richard M. Nixon as a junior campaign figure, Stone remains an ardent fan of the disgraced late president who resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment. He sports a tattoo of a smiling Nixon in between his shoulder blades.

The theatrical Stone once told the Miami Herald “the biggest sin in politics is to be boring.” It is why there’s as much interest in what he wears as what he says. Will he show up in one of his flamboyant wide-lapel pin-striped suits? Will he wear his trademark dark round sunglasses? Will he again don a Lincoln-era stovepipe hat?

His trial, however, is no laughing matter.

Roger Stone, pictured at his office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2014, is a veteran Republican political operative. CARL JUSTE MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It centers on charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, alleging Stone obstructed a congressional inquiry and gave false testimony during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

As if to stamp an exclamation point, lawyers in a pretrial hearing Monday went over the names of potential witnesses. They included President Trump, Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, in British detention himself awaiting a hearing over a U.S. request for his extradition.

While those big names are unlikely to actually appear, there are other intriguing names on the list. There’s Richard Gates, who has been a cooperating witness in the federal prosecution of one-time Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, who was once a business associate of Stone. There’s also Randy Credico, a conservative radio personality whom prosecutors allege Stone tried to coax into corroborating his false testimony.

Stone served as an adviser to President Trump’s campaign in 2015 and remained in touch with Trump associates and Trump himself even after he left the campaign in August of that year. In September 2017, he testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee that he had no prior knowledge of a hack into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails before they were released by the document-leaking organization Wikileaks.

The problem was Stone had publicly stated that he knew about Wikileaks releases before they occurred and had documented correspondence with Trump campaign officials about Wikileaks releases before they happened. He later claimed he was bluffing, although the prosecution could call another prominent campaign adviser, conservative strategist Steve Bannon, to contradict that.

This screenshot shows the now-suspended Twitter page of former Trump adviser and longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr.

FBI agents dressed in full tactical gear raided Stone’s Fort Lauderdale home on Jan. 25 and arrested him on a seven-count indictment for witness tampering, obstruction and lying under oath to congressional panels.

The indictment also alleges that Stone was asked by members of the Trump campaign about information held by Wikileaks that was damaging to Clinton. After that, Stone communicated with campaign officials about future Wikileaks releases, according to the indictment.

Special Counsel Mueller’s final report into the Russian interference was largely silent on Stone, who is believed to appear in the large swaths of redacted text that were kept from the public because they concerned ongoing legal matters.

Among the intriguing events leading up to the trial, attorneys for Stone tried to suppress evidence obtained from him, claiming that government search warrants were issued based on a faulty premise that Russia hacked Clinton’s campaign emails and Democratic National Committee Servers.

Since it was never proven that Russia hacked those servers, Stone’s lawyers argued, the search warrants executed against him should be suppressed in his trial. Judge Jackson denied his motion on Sept. 19.

And then there was the Hollywood angle.

The indictment against Stone alleges that he alluded to a scene from “The Godfather Part II” while attempting to get a witness, Credico, to lie under oath before Congress.

A still-shot from a scene in The Godfather Part II that the Roger Stone jury won’t get to see.

In the scene in question, mob turncoat Frank Pentangeli is poised to give damning testimony against Godfather Michael Corleone. On the day of the hearing, however, Corleone and consigliere Tom Haden show up with Pentangeli’s brother, just arrived on a flight from Sicily. When Pantangeli sees his sibling in court, he does an about-face and refuses to spill the mob’s secrets.

The relevance: Stone allegedly told Credico to pull a “Frank Pentangeli” — translation: lie — rather than contradict Stone by providing truthful testimony before a House committee.

Jackson said no to showing the film clip to jurors, but said they could read a transcript.

While his profile has been more subdued of late, the week before his trial Stone made appearances at South Florida fundraisers designed to defray his legal costs.

What was advertised as Stone’s “last major event” before the trial was hosted by the group Americans for Trump, featuring “the One and Only” Roger Stone, at the Signature Grand in Davie. For $36 to $65, attendees were treated to a three-course dinner and a speech by Stone, who has been known to hawk Roger Stone t-shirts, signed posters and “paperweights,” which are actually just rocks. (The defendant calls them “Roger” Stones and they sell for $12 online — marked down from $15.)

“Roger needs our help. His legal defense is projected to cost as much as 3 million dollars. Help us help him reach his goal,” the event invitation read.

The “last event” was not really the last event. Days later, the Hialeah Republican Club held a Stand with Stone and Trump rally, featuring a VIP opportunity — for $75 — to take a picture with Stone and his wife.

Said the invitation: “Roger Stone, one of the President’s oldest friends and advisers faces trial in Washington DC a few short days from now on November 5th, on charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. THEY BOTH NEED OUR SUPPORT AT THIS FREE MEGA RALLY!”

Kevin G. Hall: @KevinGHall, 202-383-6038; Alexandra Marquez: @amarquez60, 202-383-6026; Ben Wieder: @BenBWieder, 202-383-6125.
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Investigative reporter Kevin G. Hall shared the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers. He was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist for reporting on the U.S. financial crisis and won of the 2004 Sigma Delta Chi for best foreign correspondence for his series on modern-day slavery in Brazil. He is past president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
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Alexandra Marquez is based in Washington, D.C. and is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an intern working for the McClatchy D.C. Bureau and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.