Less than a week after Attorney General Bill Barr urged him to “stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” President Donald Trump is back to doing just that.
On Tuesday morning, Trump — quoting commentary Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano made on Fox & Friends — urged US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, presiding over the case of his longtime buddy and confidant Roger Stone, to grant him a new trial, citing the alleged political bias of jury forewoman Tomeka Hart.
“Judge Jackson now has a request for a new trial based on the unambiguous & self outed bias of the foreperson of the jury, whose [sic] also a lawyer, by the way,” Trump wrote. “Pretty obvious he should (get a new trial). I think almost any judge in the Country would order a new trial, I’m not so sure about Judge Jackson, I don’t know.”
Trump’s tweets come a week after he weighed in on the Stone case in an extraordinarily public manner, tweeting that prosecutors’ original seven- to nine-year sentencing recommendation for Stone’s convictions on perjury and obstruction of justice charges (among others) was “a horrible and very unfair situation” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
Hours later, the Department of Justice abruptly announced it would actually recommend a lesser sentence for Stone — a move that prompted the entire prosecution team to step down from the case, and one prosecutor to resign from the DOJ entirely.
Hart — a former Memphis school board member and one-time Democratic congressional candidate — responded to prosecutors stepping down with a Facebook post in which she expressed support for them and said that while she had previously elected to stay silent about the case, in part because of concerns about her safety, she decided to speak out because “[i]t pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors.”
That post resulted in some renewed scrutiny on Hart’s background and previous social media posts, including one in which she described Trump as “a racist.” In his tweets, Trump quoted Napolitano’s argument that these posts should invalidate the jury’s decision in the Stone case: “‘Madam foreperson, your [sic] a lawyer, you have a duty, an affirmative obligation, to reveal to us when we selected you the existence of these tweets in which you were so harshly negative about the President & the people who support him. Don’t you think we wanted to know that before we put you on this jury.’”
But this argument ignores the fact that if Stone’s lawyers felt that those posts meant Hart couldn’t be fair, they had an opportunity to say so before the trial even began — and they didn’t.
Last Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Hart’s identity “was always known to both Stone’s defense and prosecutors throughout pretrial proceedings, and she disclosed her background, including a Democratic bid for Congress, in public pretrial jury selection proceedings.”
But Stone’s lawyers didn’t challenge whether she was fit to serve.
Having political views does not disqualify someone from serving on a jury. The question is whether a potential juror’s views means they can’t be fair to the defendant — and specifically, there are some questions about whether Hart had some views about Stone that may having influenced the trial’s outcome.
While the Post reports that Hart said during jury screening she “had not formed an opinion about Stone,” Heavy reported that she did in one case retweet a Bakari Sellers post criticizing people who complained that the FBI treated Stone too harshly by raiding his Florida residence.
Mark W. Bennett, a former Iowa federal judge, told Talking Points Memo that Hart’s social media posts “could be a problem post-trial … if they asked a question and the jury foreperson provided an inaccurate, incomplete, or incorrect answer.”
But it appears that Trump’s latest tweets about the Stone case didn’t have his desired impact on Judge Jackson, at least as of yet. During a conference call on Tuesday, the judge announced that Stone’s sentencing will still occur on Thursday, though its execution will be deferred pending the resolution of motions about a possible new trial.
BREAKING: Jackson says she will keep Roger Stone’s Thursday’s sentencing, but signals she will defer its execution. “I think that delaying the sentence would not be a prudent thing to do under all the circumstances unless I’m required to do so.”
— Darren Samuelsohn (@dsamuelsohn) February 18, 2020
Regardless of what happens with Stone, one thing is clear — despite widespread criticism of his public interference in the case last week, Trump has no regrets about intervening. And his tweets on Tuesday indicate he will likely continue to interfere in the case and others he has an interest in.
Trump follows up his Stone tweets with a pack of lies about Mueller
In fact, less than 20 minutes after his latest Stone tweets, Trump tried to discredit the entire process that culminated in Stone’s prosecution.
Trump described the Russia investigation in general and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in particular as rooted in an “illegally set up based on a phony and now fully discredited Fake Dossier, lying and forging documents to the FISA Court, and many other things.”
These tweets contained a number of falsehoods. The FBI’s Russia investigation began after then-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos bragged about having insider knowledge of Russian hacking campaigns, not the Steele dossier. Trump also mischaracterized the number of Stone prosecutors who worked for Mueller, and falsely claimed Mueller’s statement to Congress about him not wanting to become Trump’s FBI director “has been proven false,” when in fact it was corroborated by Steve Bannon.