WASHINGTON - Defense attorneys for Roger Stone demanded a new trial Friday, one day after President Donald Trump suggested that the forewoman in his longtime political confidant's case had "significant bias." The legal motion could affect Stone's Feb. 20 sentencing date on charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress.
The basis for the request was filed under seal Friday, but its existence was disclosed in a court order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who gave U.S. prosecutors until Feb. 18 to respond.
"Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias," Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday, in a week in which his public comments have set off a crisis of confidence in the Justice Department. "Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the 'Justice' Department."
Trump was referring to Tomeka Hart, a former president of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress. Hart has identified herself as the forewoman of the jury in a Facebook post, saying she "can't keep quiet any longer" in the wake of the Justice Department move to reduce its sentencing recommendation for Stone from the seven to nine years recommended by front-line prosecutors.
The four prosecutors quit the case when the department reduced its recommendation Tuesday, after Trump called the initial request "horrible and very unfair."
"It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors," Hart said in the post. "They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice."
The basis of the defense motion is not known. However, Hart's disclosure led to scrutiny of her past social media commentary about Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, in which Stone was indicted.
A jury convicted Stone in November on charges of witness tampering and lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to gather damaging information about Trump's 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton.
Although Hart was not named at the trial, the juror's identity was always known to both Stone's defense and prosecutors throughout proceedings. She disclosed her background, including a bid for Congress, in public pretrial jury selection.
Stone's defense and his trial judge had the opportunity to question Hart directly and challenge her eligibility at the time.
Given heavy pretrial publicity, the court required all potential jurors to answer questionnaires to probe potential bias. Potential jurors were asked if they, friends or family ever ran for office. They were also asked if they had formed any opinion about Trump or Clinton, or if their possible connection in the case would make it difficult for them to be fair and impartial.
The questionnaire required prospective jurors to disclose if they have "written or posted anything for public consumption" about Stone or the House or special counsel investigations. It also explicitly asked if they formed or expressed any opinion about Stone, including his guilt or innocence.
It is not known how Hart answered the social media question, or whether she had commented publicly on Stone. Those answers and others could be material if they conflicted with prospective jurors' pledge under oath to answer truthfully.
But Hart, in jury screening observed by the public, said she had not formed an opinion about Stone and was seated after both sides had a chance to press her.
Asked by the judge if there was anything about Stone's role with the Trump campaign that affected her "ability to judge him fairly and impartially sitting here right now in this courtroom," Hart answered, "Absolutely not."
Asked by Stone attorney Robert Buschel if she still had political aspirations, Hart said she remained interested in local education but had no immediate plans to run for office.
Hart also replied "No," when the judge asked if there were anything about Stone's Republican affiliation that gave her "any reason to pause or hesitate or think that you couldn't fairly evaluate the evidence against him."
The Supreme Court standard for juror qualification is that they need not "be totally ignorant of the facts and issues involved. . . . It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court."
This article was written by Spencer S. Hsu and John Wagner, reporters for The Washington Post.