WASHINGTON (CN) — Roger Stone’s trial kicked off Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with a bizarre turn of events as the Trump associate, who first advised the president to make a run for the White House decades ago, went home sick in the early hours of selecting a jury to decide if he lied to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks.
Pale and sweating, Stone exited after telling U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson he suffered from food poisoning. The Barack Obama-appointed judge informed the defendant, who said he hoped to return to court Wednesday, that by leaving he waived his constitutional right to be present in the courtroom for jury selection.
The longtime adviser to President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to lying to the House Intelligence Committee, at the time investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, about his communications with WikiLeaks. He also pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Stone’s unconventional departure followed another alarming medical delay earlier in the first day of trial. Jackson ordered an evacuation when a man who appeared to be in his mid 40s cried out in the back row of her courtroom and fell to the floor convulsing. He later walked out of the courtroom before being wheeled away by medical personnel.
The offbeat proceedings picked up pace by Tuesday afternoon with the questioning of Washingtonians from a pool of 82 prospective jurors.
Their statements in response to whether they could serve as fair and impartial jurors appeared a diagnosis of the tense politics gripping the nation’s capital. Dozens of prospective jurors said they held strongly negative opinions of the president, with some describing the Trump inner circle that Stone once hailed from as corrupt.
Jackson often reminded Stone’s legal team that an aversion to Trump does not automatically disqualify potential jurors from being selected. She also denied multiple motions to strike jurors who are federal employees.
“At this point, Donald Trump is the chief executive for whom these individuals work,” the judge said.
A former attorney who stepped up to be questioned to sit on the jury admitted he was “deeply opposed to everything Donald Trump stands for,” and had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But the prospective juror said despite the “highly charged political climate” in Washington, he had no doubt he could set aside his personal political opinions to serve on the jury.
Stone’s attorney, Robert Buschel of Buschel & Gibbons, remained suspicious and asked the judge to send the potential juror home.
Jackson said no, adding the man had given no indication that he was directly biased against Stone.
Trump was the last name listed on a preliminary jury questionnaire that also flagged Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Julian Assange and Hillary Clinton as names that will arise during the trial.
Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, is expected to testify, as is Gates. The former Trump deputy campaign manager will testify against Stone as a cooperating government witness, having pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Few potential jurors had never heard of Stone, who over the years has earned a reputation as an eccentric political operative.
One man unknowingly used Stone’s own words to describe the defendant, calling him a “dirty trickster.” He said he knew Stone had a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, and that the former president was known as “Tricky Dick.”
Another man described Stone as a “political provocateur,” while a woman from the witness box said Stone is “clearly a flamboyant character.”
After a full day of questioning 50 potential jurors, Jackson closed out the first day of the trial with a pool of 34 from which to pick out the final 12 jurors plus two alternates Wednesday morning.
Those who cleared the initial round of questioning were mostly women. The first woman to undergo questioning informed the court that her husband is a lawyer in the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
“I tell him what I did [at the end of the day]. He doesn’t usually tell me what he did,” she said.
“Sounds like having a teenager,” Jackson replied, drawing laughter from the packed courtroom.
Other prospective jurors also shared that their spouses worked as lawyers or congressional staffers.
Amid that common D.C. trend were more colorful distinctions — one woman said the only T.V. she watches is figure skating. Asked about political ties, another woman said she ran for Congress to represent her home state of Tennessee. A former League of Women Voters member and a member of an organization that knits with hospital patients and inmates also underwent questioning.
On Wednesday, after the jury is sworn in and seated, Stone’s attorney and a Justice Department attorney will give openings statements in the trial that is expected to last at least two weeks.