WASHINGTON (CN) — In a dramatic turn of events in the case of President Donald Trump’s confidante Roger Stone, the judge called the jury foreperson attacked by Trump to the witness stand Tuesday in a hearing to determine whether Stone should get a new trial.
“I am not going to let you engage in a fishing expedition,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson warned before calling three jurors from Stone’s criminal trial this past November to testify.
Back in court less than a week after his sentencing, the president’s longtime ally filed a motion for new trial Feb. 14 claiming the jury foreperson evinced a bias against him on social media.
The foreperson, Tomeka Hart, spoke out in a Facebook post ahead of Stone’s sentencing to defend the four prosecutors who withdrew from the case after Attorney General William Barr directed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, to propose a lighter sentence for Stone than the original seven to nine years recommended by the trial team.
“It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice,” Hart wrote. Her LinkedIn profile lists Hart as a senior program officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, having publicly identified as a former president of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress.
The president has repeatedly called for the judge to grant Stone’s motion, saying the former campaign adviser has a “very good chance of exoneration.”
Indicted by former special counsel Robert Mueller and convicted on seven criminal counts, Stone was sentenced on Feb. 20 to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.
Drilling Hart on the witness stand and dredging up her political social media posts dating back to 2016, Stone’s attorney Seth Ginsburg repeatedly turned to an article on the defendant’s arrest.
Hart had retweeted the article, with the caption “Brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery,” months before she was summoned to serve on the Stone jury.
“It was in reference to the many rallies where supporters of Trump would yell ‘lock her up,’ suggesting that Hillary Clinton and others should be jailed,” Hart said.
Her testimony undercut arguments made by the defense to Judge Jackson prior to testimony that the post was clear evidence of misleading the court about Hart’s biases against Stone during jury selection.
Raising questions about another political post that included emojis of two hearts and two fists with one raised, Ginsburg asked Hart what the image indicated.
“Solidarity,” she answered.
Pressing the issue, Ginsburg said, “Solidarity. Protest?” Hart repeated bluntly: “Solidarity.”
Asked by Judge Jackson prior to the defense questioning if the post was “celebrating the verdict that had yet to be decided in the Roger Stone case,” Hart answered, “Oh absolutely not.”
Intervening when the defense questioning bordered on argumentative, Jackson made clear that she would not allow the character attacks that the president had levied against the juror to filter into her courtroom.
“Having an opinion about the president and some or even all of his policies does not mean that she couldn’t fairly and impartially judge the evidence against Roger Stone,” the judge said.
But holding firm to the argument that Hart failed to disclose evidence regarding her “strong views” on Stone, Ginsburg said repeatedly that the social media feed explored by the defense after the conclusion of the trial “gives rise to concern that she may not have been adherent to the court’s rules throughout the remainder of the case.”
Calling out the defense for presenting a weak argument, Jackson said motions for new trial are usually granted when there are affidavits. “When there are facts,” the judge added. “It’s all speculation. It’s all assumption.”
Two jurors who took the stand ahead of Hart did not provide testimony that bolstered the defense claim of misconduct by the foreperson.
Responding to questions from Judge Jackson, both testified Hart encouraged civility and respect among the jury, and that at no time did she attempt to control the outcome of the verdict.
Throughout the contentious hearing, the judge cautioned both parties not to describe the jurors by name or juror number, referring to the three instead as juror A, juror B and foreperson.
“Did anybody suggest that you should base your verdict on anything other than the evidence of the case?” Judge Jackson asked. “No,” juror B testified.
Echoing in real time arguments made by the defense in the courtroom, the president took to Twitter during Tuesday’s hearing claiming that the foreperson was “tainted” and “totally biased.”
Early in the four-hour hearing, Jackson rebuked Trump’s barrage of Twitter attacks directed at the jury in the last two weeks, reading several tweets from the bench.
“I think without question that this is a highly publicized case,” the judge said. “And in a highly polarized political climate in which the president himself has shown a spotlight on the jury through his Twitter platform … the risk of harassment and intimidation of any juror who may testify later this afternoon is extremely high.”
Stressing that the public learning a juror’s identity could place them in danger, Jackson conducted the hearing as a public proceeding but closed her courtroom, ordering that an audio feed be transmitted into the media room for press and an open courtroom down the hall for the public.
“Individuals who are angry about Mr. Stone’s conviction may choose to take it out on them personally,” Jackson said, further warning that any attempt to invade the privacy of a jury could have a “significant chilling effect” on future jurors showing up to court when summoned.
Jackson has deferred the execution of Stone’s sentence until after the parties resolve the motion for new trial. She did not rule from the bench Tuesday, instead taking the matter under advisement.