WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone lied to Congress “because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” a federal prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of Stone’s trial for allegedly trying to conceal his efforts before the 2016 election to gain insights about Democrats’ hacked emails.

Stone’s trial is the last case filed by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the presidential campaign, and prosecutors wasted little time connecting Stone’s alleged crimes to the interests of the Trump campaign.

Minutes into their opening statement, prosecutors linked the charges against Stone directly to Trump, citing phone records that showed the two talking at key moments.

“The evidence in this case will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who was a member of Mueller’s team, told the jury of nine women and three men at a federal courthouse in Washington.

Stone’s lawyer told the panel his client had no intention of lying, and appeared voluntarily before the intelligence committee. While Stone may have bragged about connections he didn’t have, Bruce Rogow said, his client did not mean to lie to lawmakers.

Zelinsky said that on the evening of June 14, 2016 – the day the Democratic National Committee announced its computer system had been hacked – Stone called then-candidate Trump. In late July, after the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks had begun releasing hacked DNC material, Stone again called Trump’s phone, and that call lasted 10 minutes.

Prosecutors do not know what the two discussed but “about an hour after that call that Roger Stone had with then-candidate Trump, Roger Stone sent another email,” Zelinksy said, asking a friend in London to try to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The prosecutor urged jurors to focus on Stone’s conduct, not the broader controversies still swirling around the 2016 campaign.

“This case is not about who hacked the Democratic National Committee servers. This case is not about whether Roger Stone had any communications with Russians. And this case is not about politics,” said Zelinksy. “This case is about Roger Stone’s false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to obstruct the investigation and to tamper with evidence.”

Stone, 67, a longtime Trump adviser and political consultant, has pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment.

Prosecutors say he lied on several points: when he told the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that he did not have texts or emails about his 2016 discussions surrounding WikiLeaks, when he said that he had only one associate who tried to act as a go-between with Assange, and when he claimed that he never spoke to anyone in the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks’ plans.

Zelinksy said Stone told those lies because if Congress had learned of his many emails and texts seeking details about what WikiLeaks had on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, “it would have unraveled all of the other lies Roger Stone told.”

The prosecutor also pointed to an email Stone sent to then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Aug. 3, 2016, seeking to speak to him.

When Manafort asked why, Stone emailed back, “To save Trump’s a–. Call me please.” Manafort was convicted last year of unrelated financial crimes and is in prison.

During that critical summer 2016 period after WikiLeaks began releasing hacked data, Stone emailed Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, Zelinsky told the jury.

“Trump can still win, but time is running out,” Stone wrote to Bannon. ” ‘I know how to win, but it ain’t pretty,’ ” Zelinsky read, showing jurors the email on their computer screens and suggesting that Stone was alluding to WikiLeaks.

Rogow, Stone’s attorney, countered that Stone agreed to testify without a subpoena, and in public, thinking the questions would be about any contacts with Russians.

“The evidence will show that’s not the usual way that people go to a committee hearing, certainly if they’re intending to lie,” said Rogow.

Stone, he said, was exercising his First Amendment rights during the election.

“Supporting the president or a candidate for president is not a crime of any sort,” Rogow said. “We are not here to try Russian collusion; there has been no finding of Russian collusion with regard to Mr. Stone, no finding of Russian collusion with regard to the campaign.”

Much of the case centers on Stone’s interactions with conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and former radio show host Randy Credico, both of whom Stone allegedly used seeking to extract information from WikiLeaks about what information they had and when they planned to make it public.

Rogow said House investigators never found that Stone “knew anything other than what was in the public arena” in regards to the Russian hack. “He did brag about his ability to find out what was going on,” he said. “But he had no intermediary.”

The lawyer said his client was lied to and then lied himself to puff up his image.

“It’s made-up stuff,” he said. Credico and Corsi “were playing Mr. Stone,” and “he took the bait,” Rogow said. Stone bragged publicly about his contacts and access because it played well in politics and the media, Rogow said. Stone, in turn, was “playing others” by pretending “he had some kind of direct contact” with WikiLeaks, the lawyer said.

The trial before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is expected to last about two weeks. A trove of Stone’s communications with Trump insiders, including exchanges with Bannon, Manafort, and Manafort deputy Rick Gates, will figure prominently in the case.

Zelinsky said the case’s most important evidence will not be the witnesses, but Stone’s own words.

“Amazingly, most of the evidence in this case is in the written record – it’s emails and text messages showing what really happened. If those records had come out, the truth would have been exposed,” the prosecutor said.

The trial will detail the eagerness of some in Trump’s orbit to find damaging information to derail Clinton’s presidential run.

“At a critical moment in this nation’s history,” as Congress sought to “find out the truth of what happened,” Zelinsky said, Stone “was doing his best to stop them.”

Stone, a self described “agent provocateur” of American conservative politics, has said that any misstatements he made were unintentional and that he is a victim of politically motivated attacks against the president. Stone first met Trump in the 1980s and had encouraged him to run for the White House since the 1990s.

Stone’s defense team disputes the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation. But in pretrial hearings, it failed in attempts to challenge the special counsel’s central finding that Moscow had a primary role in “sweeping and systemic” cyber-interference in the 2016 campaign, including hacking and releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, among others.

Rogow has not said whether Stone would testify in his own defense, but left open that possibility.

Prosecutors have said their first witness will be Michelle Taylor, the former lead FBI agent in the case.

Jackson, a 2011 Obama appointee, has rejected Stone’s claims that he was selectively prosecuted, saying that he had only himself to blame for coming under investigation for his alleged lies after taking public credit for the WikiLeaks release and suggesting that he had inside information about more to come.

Ultimately, Mueller did not charge anyone associated with Trump’s campaign of working with Russia or WikiLeaks to release stolen information, and Mueller’s report did not accuse anyone of having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.

The witness-tampering charge against Stone stems from his alleged attempt to persuade a witness who also was to testify before the congressional panel to say falsely either that he was an intermediary for contacts with WikiLeaks or could not recall anything he had said to Stone.

Stone was put under a court gag order that bars him from commenting about the case or prosecutors after he repeatedly posted on social media attacks regarding his indictment, the conduct of federal agents and intelligence agencies, actions the judge said before trial might impair the ability to seat an impartial jury. Stone’s Instagram account also had shown a photograph of Jackson’s face next to what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun scope.


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