WASHINGTON - U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday rebuked President Donald Trump and other media commentators for attacking the forewoman of the jury that convicted longtime Trump friend and confidante Roger Stone of lying to Congress, as she ordered a partially public hearing to weigh Stone's request for a new trial because of concerns about the jury.
Citing the extreme risk of harassment and intimidation jurors might face, Jackson decided that observers should be able to only listen to an audio feed - rather than see in person - arguments over Stone's request for a new trial. She also barred the parties from naming jurors during the proceeding.
Jackson noted the president himself had "used his Twitter platform to present his opinion about the foreperson" of the jury, and that Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson had displayed the foreperson's Twitter handle and called her an "anti-Trump zealot." Carlson's show reaches millions of viewers.
A day before Stone requested the new trial, Trump suggested on Twitter the forewoman of the jury in Stone's case had "significant bias." He doubled down on those attacks while the hearing was ongoing Tuesday.
"There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case," Trump wrote. "Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of 'Trump' and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn't even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!"
Jackson, Stone's trial judge, had earlier called out Trump and some media commentators for attacking the jury forewoman, and others whom she said sent intimidating comments to two jurors who spoke out publicly about the case after reaching their verdict. Jurors are allowed to talk publicly about their deliberations once they are concluded.
"Any attempt to harass or intimidate jurors is completely antithetical to our system of justice," Jackson said. She added the comments could have a "chilling effect" on future jurors.
"This is indisputably a highly publicized case in which the president himself shone a spotlight on the jury," Jackson said. "The risk of harassment and intimidation of any jurors who may testify in the hearing later today is extremely high, and individually who may be angry about Mr. Stone's conviction may chose to take it out on them personally."
Jackson has signaled the likelihood of a swift ruling and could decide as early as Tuesday whether to toss out Stone's convictions and order a retrial, or finalize the jury's guilty verdicts for defense appeal. "I don't expect we're going to need a lot of argument," she said Tuesday.
Stone filed his request for a new trial on Feb. 14 - the day after Trump repeatedly attacked the forewoman of the jury, who ran for Congress as a Democrat.
"Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias," Trump wrote on Twitter on Feb. 13, during a week in which his public comments triggered 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 had identified herself as the forewoman of the jury in a Facebook post, saying she couldn'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 change came 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."
Jackson barred the parties from naming jurors during Tuesday's hearing, but said in court the discussion involved the forewoman. Prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred over her social media postings.
Stone defense attorney Seth Ginsberg alleged that the forewoman answered falsely when she said on a jury questionnaire that she had no opinions about the FBI, Justice Department or special counsel Robert Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election that would affect her impartiality, and that nothing about their involvement would affect her ability to be fair and base her decision solely on the evidence and the law.
"Based on the social media posts, it appears to me they are misleading, intentionally," Ginsberg said.
Prosecutors' contention seemed to be that Stone's defense attorneys had ample time to review her and other jurors questionnaires, which they were given on Sept. 13, and did not raise an objection in real time.
Prosecutor J.P. Cooney said none of the postings made by the juror during the trial, from Nov. 6 through Nov. 15, were related to Stone's case when he and another prosecutor examined them two or three days after Stone's Feb. 14 filing.
He added however, that some of links have subsequently been disabled.
In an unusual twist, the government on Tuesday called as a witness one of the prosecutors who brought the case against Stone at trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando.
Marando quit the case only in recent weeks, after Justice Department leadership intervened to reduce the sentencing recommendation he and the other career prosecutors on the team made for Stone.
Marando testified that Stone's defense was given a list five days before jury selection began of about 80 potential jurors in the order they would be questioned, meaning those at the top would be likeliest to be selected.
"It's coming back to me now. A lot has happened since then," Marando said.
Although it was not discussed at Tuesday's hearing, the jury forewoman was among the first five prospective jurors questioned.
Jackson said a transcript will be released after the hearing, though some information could be redacted from it. She suggested that at least two jurors and possibly more may be called as witnesses to investigate Stone's sealed allegation of juror misconduct.
Witness testimony will be public, but some portions of questioning will be conducted under a white-noise husher or at the bench with audio turned off to avoid revealing identifying information about the jurors, Jackson said.
Stone also made a separate, failed bid to disqualify Jackson after Thursday's sentencing hearing, asserting that she showed bias by referring to "the jurors who served with integrity under difficult circumstances."
Jackson slapped down that claim as a baseless smear, saying no law required a postponement and that she had agreed to delay execution of Stone's sentence until his motion is resolved.
"Given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court's docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words 'judge' and 'biased' in it," Jackson wrote in a rare Sunday opinion.
The record indicates that Stone's motion is his second attempt to argue for a new trial related to allegations of juror bias. Jackson denied his first such motion, filed after his November trial and decided Feb. 5, saying there was no evidence that a juror was biased merely because she was a lawyer with the Internal Revenue Service.
A jury convicted Stone in November of lying during testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 to conceal his central role in the Trump campaign's efforts to learn about Democratic computer files hacked by Russia and made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks to damage Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton. Stone also threatened a witness who was an associate of his in an attempt to prevent the man from cooperating with lawmakers
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."