USA

Roger Stone moves to disqualify judge in last-ditch bid to avoid prison

President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone, sentenced to 40 months in prison this week for impeding the congressional investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, moved Friday to disqualify the judge in his case, claiming her remarks at his sentencing rendered her unable to fairly rule on his bid for a new trial.

Stone's lawyers say, in particular, that Judge Amy Berman Jackson's decision to assert that jurors in the case "served with integrity" strikes at the heart of Stone's motion for a new trial, which they indicated is largely based on whether at least one juror was inappropriately biased against him.

"Whether the subject juror (and perhaps others) served with 'integrity' is one of the paramount questions presented in the pending Motion," Stone's lawyers argued. "The Court’s ardent conclusion of 'integrity' indicates an inability to reserve judgment on an issue which has yet been heard."

Berman Jackson made her remark during an impassioned rebuke of the arguments Stone's legal team offered during his trial. She said that Stone and his lawyers minimized the significance of his effort to frustrate congressional investigators as they sought to understand Russia's interference in the 2016 election, a grave national security challenge.

"Sure, the defense is free to say: So what? Who cares?" Berman Jackson said. "But, I'll say this: Congress cared. The United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia that prosecuted the case and is still prosecuting the case cared. The jurors who served with integrity under difficult circumstances cared. The American people cared. And I care."

Stone was convicted last year on multiple counts of lying to congressional investigators, as well as a count of witness intimidation for pressuring an associate to refuse to cooperate with Congress. Lawmakers sought Stone's testimony regarding his attempts to act as an intermediary between Wikileaks and the Trump campaign, but he repeatedly refused to tell House members about his multiple efforts to contact Wikileaks head Julian Assange, denying he had communications with certain associates that were later discovered to be voluminous.

Stone's latest motion appears to be a last-ditch, longshot bid to forestall his imminent prison sentence. But it will also likely reach the receptive ears of the president, who has repeatedly amplified criticism of Berman Jackson and repeated false claims about the nature of the charges against Stone.

Trump's allies are agitating for the president to issue a pardon or commute Stone's sentence, and though Trump is widely expected to do so eventually, the timing is uncertain. Berman Jackson also used her sentencing comments to underscore that Stone's overarching effort in impeding Congress was to protect Trump from scrutiny.

Berman Jackson delivered her sentence Thursday but delayed it until after she considers Stone's motion for a new trial. Though the motion was filed under seal, Stone's team indicated that it will focus on a juror.

"Stone’s Motion for New Trial is directly related to the integrity of a juror. It is alleged that a juror 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," his lawyers argued.

"The premature statement blessing the “integrity of the jury” undermines the appearance of impartiality and presents a strong bias for recusal," they added.