The forewoman at the center of allegations of jury bias in Roger Stone’s case took the stand on Tuesday, defending herself during a grilling by the defense team as it seeks a new trial.
“These are very unique circumstances here. It is unprecedented … There is a very public ongoing effort to discredit not just the prosecution but the jurors themselves,” presiding Judge Amy Berman Jackson said. “In an abundance of caution, and given the unique circumstances, I am going to ask a limited series of questions from some jurors. … I’m not going to let you engage in a fishing expedition.”
The courtroom gallery was cleared and the video feed were cut off, but the audio was piped through to the media room, and the hearing was held largely on the record, with the identities of the jurors shielded.
The controversy surrounding juror Tomeka Hart, a former Democratic congressional candidate, kicked into high gear earlier this month when it was revealed she shared anti-Trump posts on social media, which resulted in Stone’s lawyers filing a motion for a retrial prior to his sentencing last week.
“It is my strong opinion that the forewoman of the jury, the woman who was in charge of the jury, is totally tainted,” Trump said after Stone’s 40-month sentence was handed down.
Hart tweeted about Trump dozens of times and was critical of the president and his supporters, with some comments regarding people under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Hart’s tweets include a few about Russian election interference and allegations of Trump-Russia collusion.
Stone’s team focused intently on “question 23” in the September 2019 jury questionnaire, which read: “Have you written or posted anything for public consumption about the defendant, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, or the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller?”
“I can’t remember if I did, but I may have shared an article on Facebook,” Hart wrote in response last year. “Honestly, not sure.”
After the public left the courtroom, Stone's attorney Seth Ginsberg argued that Hart’s answers were “misleading if not deliberately false.”
It doesn't appear Hart tweeted about Stone directly, though she did retweet a Jan. 30, 2019, tweet from CNN commentator Bakari Sellers criticizing Republicans unhappy about Stone's arrest in early 2019.
Ginsberg also pointed to a tweet from Jan. 29, 2019, in which she shared an article and said it was “brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery.” The article was a lengthy piece by NPR that listed Stone’s indictment at the top, described him as “a longtime informal adviser to President Trump,” and noted he’d been “charged with seven counts … in relation to Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
“It was a reference to the many rallies where supporters of President Trump yelled, ‘Lock her up!’ suggesting … the irony of people saying, ‘Oh, there should be jail,' but them getting arrested,” Hart said of her tweet.
When pressed by Ginsberg, Hart said she did not clearly remember posting about the Trump-Russia controversy when she answered the juror questionnaire and claimed she thought the question was narrowly “in terms of Roger Stone.”
“As I sat there on Sept. 12, that day, I honestly could not remember … I said, ‘I’m honestly not sure' … It’s why I didn’t check yes or no because I didn’t want to appear deceptive,” Hart said. “When I read question 23, I read all of that to mean about Roger Stone … I was thinking in terms of Roger Stone.”
Ginsberg referenced a question the judge asked in November about whether she had read or heard about Stone.
“Nothing that I can recall specifically,” Ginsberg quoted Hart as saying. “I do watch, sometimes paying attention, but sometimes in the background, CNN. So, I recall just hearing about him being part of the campaign and some belief or reporting around interaction with the Russia probe and interaction with him and people in the country, but I don’t have a whole lot of details. I don’t pay that close attention or watch C-SPAN.”
Ginsberg also asked if her answer was consistent with not paying close attention to the Russia investigation.
“That’s not what she said,” the judge said.
“My whole response to this was about Roger Stone — what I had read or heard about him,” Hart again said.
Ginsberg went through numerous social media posts by Hart critical of Trump and his supporters.
“Ignoring the numerous indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions of people in 45’s inner-circle, some Republicans are asserting that the Mueller investigation was a waste of time because he hasn’t found evidence,” Hart wrote in a March 2019 tweet.
Hart said she could not remember the meaning of an early morning tweet, featuring two hearts, a fist bump, and a raised fist, on the day of the Stone trial deliberations, though she recalled the raised fist meant “solidarity.”
A transcript of the examination under oath of the jury pool in November shows Hart promising to make her judgment based on the facts. Stone’s lawyers did not move to strike Hart from the pool at the time.
Hart admitted to the judge then that she previously sat on a federal grand jury for two years, ran for Congress, paid a fair amount of attention to politics on the news and social media, and was aware that Stone was connected to Trump’s campaign, but she said “absolutely not” when the judge asked if these would affect her ability to judge Stone fairly.
Jackson said Tuesday that “having an opinion about the president and some or all of his policies does not mean she cannot fairly or impartially judge the evidence against Roger Stone.”
Two other members of the jury, referred to only as Juror A and Juror B, also testified on Tuesday.
Juror A said, “There was a little bit of impatience at times during deliberations, but we were able to slow ourselves down” when weighing Stone’s guilt. Juror A said “several people, including the forewoman,” emphasized the importance of taking their time and remembering the presumption of innocence.
Juror B separately echoed these comments, saying there was a time during deliberations when “most of us agreed that he was guilty,” but “it was the foreman that insisted that … we needed to examine” one of the charges more closely.
Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster” and longtime friend to Trump, was swept up in Mueller’s investigation and was arrested last January. He was found guilty in November on five separate counts of lying to the House Intelligence Committee during its investigation into Russian interference about his alleged outreach to WikiLeaks, one count that he “corruptly influenced, obstructed, and impeded” the congressional investigation, and another for attempting to persuade corruptly the congressional testimony of radio host Randy Credico.
Jackson sentenced Stone to 40 months for obstruction of justice, 18 months for witness tampering, and 12 months for the other five counts — to be served concurrently.
Over the weekend, Jackson rejected Stone’s motion that she remove herself from the case.
Prosecutors told the court earlier this month they recommended Stone receive up to nine years behind bars. But, after Trump tweeted he “cannot allow this miscarriage of justice,” the Justice Department suggested a less severe sentence. The four line prosecutors on the case withdrew as the department walked back the “unduly high” sentence recommendation.
Attorney General William Barr denied the president's tweet influenced the Justice Department's actions, but Barr did complain that such tweets make “it impossible for me to do my job.”
“The prosecution was, and is, righteous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb said last week.
If Stone’s long shot challenge is successful, his sentence would be tossed and the Justice Department would have to try him again.
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