WASHINGTON - A federal jury deliberated Thursday without reaching a verdict on whether veteran GOP strategist Roger Stone impeded a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election by repeatedly lying to conceal Donald Trump's campaign outreach to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The jury began deliberating a little before 10:30 a.m. and was released for the day a little after 5 p.m. They are set to return Friday at 9:30 a.m.
A longtime GOP operative whose friendship with Trump dates back four decades, Stone, 67, was charged with one count of obstruction, five counts of making false statements and one count of witness tampering stemming from his Sept. 26, 2017, appearance and written answers to the House Intelligence Committee.
He pleaded not guilty in January, the last charges filed in special counsel Robert Mueller III's separate investigation into Russian election interference.
Stone's defense argued he had no "corrupt intent" when he withheld information about WikiLeaks, saying he viewed it as having nothing to do with Russia and outside the scope of Congress probe.
The charge of witness tampering carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and the other counts up to five-year terms, although a first-time offender would face far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.
Based on two questions Thursday afternoon, jurors appeared to be wrestling with one of five false statements Stone is alleged to have made -- whether he lied while testifying to the committee about talk show host Randy Credico being his only intermediary with WikiLeaks.
Stone described his WikiLeaks source to the committee as a journalist and friend who he would not name, then but then two weeks later identified Credico in a letter to the committee as his source. Prosecutors have said Credico was one of two go-betweens Stone was using to reach WikiLeaks.
Stone did not testify during the trial before Jackson in Washington, District of Columbia, which began with testimony Nov. 6.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis told a jury panel of nine women and three men in closing arguments Wednesday that Stone lied to avoid adding to scrutiny of Trump and his campaign's quest for Democratic emails hacked by Russian intelligence agencies and disseminated through WikiLeaks.
The prosecution has relied heavily on recordings and transcripts of Stone's own statements in public in August 2016 and later to committee investigators about having inside information about WikiLeaks' plans gained through a trusted "mutual friend" or "intermediary" of its founder, Julian Assange. They also have shown jurors texts and messages Stone exchanged with others whose help Stone sought in finding out more - communications that he told the committee did not exist.
"That's the beautiful thing about this case. The paper here doesn't lie," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando said to jurors.
Defense attorney Bruce Rogow dismissed the charges as a fundamentally misguided and politically biased attempt to smear Stone for the campaign's legal and natural opposition efforts.
"There was nothing illegal about the campaign being interested in information that WikiLeaks was going to be putting out," Rogow said. "This is what happens in a campaign . . . It happens in every campaign."
Former Trump campaign chief Stephen Bannon and then-deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified for the government, with Bannon saying the campaign saw Stone as its "access point" to WikiLeaks, and Gates saying Stone first mentioned forthcoming leaks to the campaign as early as April 2016, two months before Democrats announced the Russia-linked hacks.
"I have an idea . . . to save Trump's a--," Stone emailed then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort shortly after WikiLeaks released its first batch of emails in July 2016 to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, prosecutors said. Stone also sought contact information to "debrief" Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Gates said.
Gates testified that Manafort directed him to stay in touch with Stone, so Manafort could brief Trump and others. After Trump ended one phone call from Stone at the end of July, Gates testified, the future president said to Gates that "more information would be coming."
In written responses under oath to questions posed by Mueller's investigators, Trump said that he did not recall being aware of communications between Stone and WikiLeaks or recall any conversations about WikiLeaks between Stone and members of his campaign.
Rogow in closings, said the government presented jurors no evidence of what was actually said in calls and conversations that Stone allegedly had with Trump and others, calling the prosecution founded on the "thin, very thin, reed" of conjecture and speculation.
"How can you draw an inference from these calls when you have no idea what was said?" Rogow said.
"So much of this case deals with that question that you need to ask . . . so what?" Rogow argued to jurors. "So Stone didn't tell the House committee about his efforts to get information from WikiLeaks - they never amounted to anything. So he didn't tell them he talked to the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks - that's not illegal."
Rogow also discounted allegations that Stone told Credico to mislead or refuse to testify to the House committee - the focus of the witness tampering charge. Stone had told the committee that Credico was his intermediary to WikiLeaks, although prosecutors said he had a second contact, conservative writer Jerome Corsi, who did not testify in the case.
"So he told his old friend Randy Credico not to testify. These two guys tampered with one another for 20 years over all kinds of crazy things." Rogow said. None of it matters, he argued, because "it doesn't have any kind of connection to Russia."
This article was written by Spencer S. Hsu, Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner, reporters for The Washington Post.