Politics

Trump slams Roger Stone juror right before she testifies at retrial request hearing

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Key Points
  • The forewoman of the jury that convicted President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone of multiple crimes last fall testified at a hearing on whether Stone should be granted a new trial.
  • Tomeka Hart's appearance in federal court in Washington came as Trump tweeted criticisms of her several times on Tuesday during the hearing, where Stone's lawyers argued that her alleged "misconduct" had tainted the trial.
  • Hart had posted articles critical of Trump on her social media.
Roger Stone, former campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at the federal courthouse where he is set to be sentenced, in Washington, U.S., February 20, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

The forewoman of the jury that convicted President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone testified Tuesday at a hearing on whether a new trial should be granted in light of her social media posts that were critical of Trump.

Tomeka Hart's nearly hourlong appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., came shortly after Trump attacked her several times on Twitter.

Stone's lawyers are arguing that Hart's alleged "misconduct" tainted the trial of the Republican operative.

Hart testified that she did not read news accounts or Twitter posts about the trial when she was serving on the case, and denied deleting any posts she had made on social media.

Stone's lawyers argued that Hart lied on her jury questionnaire when she said she was unsure if she had ever posted anything on social media about Stone. She had, in fact, retweeted an article that mentioned him shortly after his arrest.

"That was the honest answer on Sept. 12. That's why I didn't check yes or no," Hart testified.

One of Stone's lawyers asked her about a tweet she wrote before Stone's arrest referring to the rapper Chuck D of the hip-hop group Public Enemy. The judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, cut off that line of questioning.

Jackson did not rule Tuesday on the request for a new trial. She did not say when she would issue her decision.

Earlier Tuesday, the judge barred the public from the courtroom for that hearing, saying that tweets by Trump and others may have raised the risk of harassment to jurors who might be testifying there.

Eleven jurors came to the hearing, but only Hart and two other jurors were called to testify in the courtroom, where they were watched by Stone.

Those two other jurors testified that Hart was fair during deliberations and encouraged members of the jury to consider all of the evidence. At one point, a juror said, even after most of the jury had decided Stone was guilty on a particular criminal count, "it was the foreman that insisted that we examine question 3, charge 3 a little more."

"It was the foreperson who insisted that that level of attention be paid to that count even though some of you were already ready to decide?" Jackson asked.

"Yes," the juror answered.

While Jackson barred the press and other members from the hearing room, she allowed reporters and others to listen to the hearing on an audio feed elsewhere in the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse.

Jackson last week sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering.

But she suspended imposing the sentence pending her decision on his request for a new trial.

Even as the hearing got underway, Trump again tweeted about Hart, writing, "There has rarely been a juror so tainted as" her.

"Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of 'Trump' and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn't even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch."

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A Democrat who once ran for Congress out of Tennessee, Hart's LinkedIn page identifies her as a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She previously served as president and CEO of the Memphis Urban League, and on the Memphis, Tennessee, school board.

Stone's lawyers argue that Hart "misled the Court regarding her ability to be unbiased and fair and the juror attempted to cover up evidence that would directly contradict her false claims of impartiality."

During the hearing Tuesday after the public left the courtroom, Stone's attorney Seth Ginsberg told Jackson that Hart's answers to several questions on a jury questionnaire were "at best misleading."

"It may be that she believed them to be truthful, but she concealed evidence regarding her views that would have been important for the court and the parties to understand her bias," Ginsberg argued.

When pressed by Jackson, Ginsberg said he considered her answers to be "intentionally" misleading.

Ginsburg pointed to posts by Hart that shared critical stories about Trump and Stone, which he argued "imply a bias" against Stone.

In one post, the foreperson shared an article about Stone, and herself wrote, "brought to you by the lock her up peanut brigade."

Ginsberg said, "That indicates she did more than pass it along because she thought it was a cute headline."

The failure of Stone's lawyers to discover Hart's social media posts related to Trump before she was placed on the jury without objection by them has raised eyebrows among Stone's supporters.

The posts came to light only earlier this month when a conservative commentator tweeted about them after Hart publicly identified herself as the jury forewoman in a Facebook post.

Stone's other defense lawyer, Robert Buschel, admitted Tuesday that no one on the defense team, which included jury selection consultants, had done a search on the internet for the names of potential jurors once they became known to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"I think it's a regular practice by trial lawyers these days to Google individuals on the jury panel list, wouldn't you agree?" Jackson noted.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Jackson first held a hearing on Stone's motion to open the courtroom to the public for the second hearing on his request for a new trial.

Jackson cited Trump's Feb. 13 tweet about Hart, in which he wrote that it appeared that the forewoman had "significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the 'Justice' Department."

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The judge, before ruling that the hearing in Stone's case should be held in a sealed courtroom, albeit with a public audio feed, also referred to comments by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, the head of far-right conspiracy site Infowars.

Carlson "accused the foreperson of the jury of being an anti-Trump zealot," Jackson noted.

The judge described a segment on Carlson's show in which he slammed the juror as biased and broadcast her Twitter handle, according to NBC News.

Such criticisms might put jurors' safety at risk, Jackson said.

"Individuals who are angry about Mr. Stone's conviction may choose to take it out on them personally," she said, NBC reported.

"While judges may have volunteered for their positions, jurors are not volunteers," Jackson said.

"They are deserving of the public's respect and they deserve to have their privacy respected."

VIDEO1:1001:10
Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone just got sentenced to 40 months in prison

On Monday, Jackson had rejected Stone's motion that she disqualify herself from further involvement in the case — including the question of whether he should be granted another trial.

Stone's attorneys had argued that Jackson's impartiality came into question when she said during the sentencing hearing that the jurors in Stone's case "served with integrity under difficult circumstances."

Her comments, the defense lawyers argued, show that the judge has prejudged whether Hart — whose anti-Trump social media posts were discovered after Stone was convicted on seven criminal counts — committed misconduct.

Stone was convicted last fall of lying to Congress about his contacts during the 2016 presidential election with the Trump campaign as he sought to get information about emails stolen by Russian agents from eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee.

He also was convicted of trying to tamper with a witness, comedian Randy Credico, whom he pressured to endorse his lies.

Prosecutors at Stone's trial said that he kept Trump's camp aware of what he had learned about WikiLeaks' plans for releasing the emails, which were embarrassing to Clinton and the DNC.

But Stone had told the House Intelligence Committee he had no such conversations with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.

Trump in written answers in late 2018 to then-special counsel Robert Mueller, said, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with" Stone, "nor do I recall Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign."