WASHINGTON (CN) — Attorneys in Washington, D.C., federal court geared up Wednesday for the November trial of Trump associate Roger Stone, as the presiding judge tackled pending motions from both sides, including whether to allow prosecutors to screen a clip from “The Godfather Part II.”
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the clip — which the government argues is critical to grasping alleged witness tampering by the longtime advisor to President Donald Trump — is certainly relevant, but voiced concern that it may infuse unnecessary drama into court proceedings.
However, she dismissed arguments from Stone’s lawyer that the jury would wrongly associate Stone with the mafia film character Michael Corleone.
The scene the government seeks to introduce as evidence links to messages Stone sent to Randy Credico – a witness in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – in which Stone repeatedly references the film character Frank Pentangeli.
In the scene, Pentangeli appears to give witness testimony before a congressional committee investigating Corleone. When Corleone enters the room, Pentangeli suddenly claims he fabricated his prior testimony.
“In a dramatic moment, Pentangeli is asked a question about Michael Corleone’s connections to organized crime, and answers, ‘I don’t know nothing about that. Oh—I was in the olive oil business with his father but that was a long time ago,’” according to the government’s motion to submit the clip as evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Jed said the clip allows the jury to see the same images from the film that the messages sent by Stone conjured in Credico’s mind.
“I take your point that a picture is worth a thousand words,” Jackson said, adding that was her concern.
The judge deferred ruling on whether to allow the government to screen the “Godfather” clip until Credico, a radio host, testifies at trial. At that point, Jackson said, any attempt by Stone’s legal team to discredit his testimony may trigger a need for the jury to view the film.
Jackson also held out ruling on whether to allow the government to submit evidence that Stone lied to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his ties to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
“He went in with a calculated plan, to lie, to separate himself from the campaign,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando.
Marando said the government has “voluminous” records of communications plus two witnesses that prove Stone made “clear” and “blatant” false statements in his 2017 testimony to the committee relating to activities for the campaign, including work with a political action committee.
Stone’s lawyer Bruce Rogow argued the Justice Department should have charged Stone with lying to the committee but added: “I don’t think it’s relevant from the get-go because the investigation was about Russian interference.”
Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges he obstructed the investigation by Congress into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, engaged in witness tampering and lied to Congress. While mentioned in the indictment, the charges do not specify false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
But Marando held firm that prosecutors would have to prove Stone’s intent to distance himself from the Trump campaign with false testimony.
Seeming to side with the government, Jackson said there was little ambiguity when Stone told the committee he did not communicate with the Trump campaign about the PAC.
“The answer was not only definitive, he explained it,” the judge said as Stone, present in court wearing a dark gray suit with a pale pink shirt, sat arms crossed and looking down.
Jackson also granted a government motion to introduce evidence related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election while denying a similar motion from the defense.
Repeatedly warning that the upcoming trial would not center on Russian interference, the judge said she would not allow the “misuse of proceedings to disseminate the defendant’s views.”
Stone has made repeated statements to news outlets and on social media challenging the validity of the special counsel’s investigation, in violation of a gag order Jackson issued.