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Federal judge rebukes Trump over Roger Stone jury comments

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Not long after Jackson made her remarks, Trump tweeted again about the juror. “There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case. Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone,” he wrote. “She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!”

Jackson last week sentenced Stone to more than three years in prison for obstructing the congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has also put a hold on immediately locking up Stone until after she rules on his bid for a new trial.

During last Thursday’s sentencing, Jackson made no direct mention of the president’s remarks about the case. But the judge on Tuesday left no mystery that she thought Trump’s comments were a problem.

“The president of the United States used his Twitter platform to disseminate a particular point of view about a juror,” Jackson said. “Any attempt to invade the privacy of the jurors or to harass or intimidate them is completely antithetical to our system of justice…..They deserve to have their privacy protected.”

Trump has been commenting about the Stone case since his longtime associate was first indicted and arrested in January 2019, but Jackson said she was alarmed by the president’s more recent remarks since the sentencing. During an appearance at a prison program graduation in Las Vegas last week, for example, the president complained without evidence that Stone’s jury was “tainted” with anti-Trump bias.

“It’s my strong opinion that the forewoman of the jury–the woman who was in charge of the jury–is totally tainted,” Trump said. “When you take a look, how can you have a person like this? She was a anti-Trump activist. Can you imagine this?”

The president in those remarks also signaled his intentions of issuing a pardon for Stone, though he said he wanted to wait until Stone had a chance to petition for a new trial and make an appeal.

“I want to see it play out to its fullest, because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration,” the president said.

Stone’s hearing on the new-trial motion got underway later Tuesday afternoon. But Jackson cited an “extremely high” risk of harassment and intimidation for any juror who gets called to testify as a reason to exclude the press and public from the courtroom for that session. She did allow a closed-circuit audio feed to another courtroom and a media room.

Stone’s motion for a new hearing has been kept under wraps since it was filed more than a week ago, but Jackson’s order Monday revealed that Stone’s defense recently moved to open the related court filings and any planned hearing to the public.

The defense motion centers on a woman who has identified herself as the foreperson of the jury at Stone’s weeklong trial last November, Tomeka Hart. Hart is an attorney who formerly served on the Memphis school board and mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in Tennessee’s 9th District in 2012.

Hart didn’t respond to requests for comment from POLITICO at the conclusion of the trial. But after the four prosecutors who handled Stone’s trial quit two weeks ago amid a furor over an intervention in the case by Attorney General Bill Barr, Hart posted a message on Facebook acknowledging her role and defending the prosecution team.

“I can’t keep quiet any longer,” Hart wrote, according to the Daily Memphian. “I have kept my silence for months. Initially, it was for my safety. Then, I decided to remain silent out of fear of politicizing the matter.”

“I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis – the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” Hart added. “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.”

During Hart’s questioning in court before the trial, she mentioned her congressional run amid examination by one of Stone’s attorneys, Robert Buschel. From the thrust of his questions, it seemed evident she had run as a Democrat. Stone’s defense did not move to excuse her at that time, although it’s unclear if they requested her dismissal at an earlier stage of the case.

After Hart stepped forward to defend the prosecutors, conservative writers and activists noted that while she said in court that she didn’t recall anything specific about Stone beyond a vague connection to Donald Trump’s campaign and “the Russia probe,” she had actually retweeted a message about Stone shortly after his arrest at gunpoint at his Florida home last January.

The tweet, from Democratic strategist and former South Carolina legislator Bakari Sellers, contrasted the outcry over the large show of force during Stone’s arrest with responses to the shootings of eight African-American men by police in recent years. Hart does not appear to have commented on the message on Twitter beyond retweeting it to her followers.

Trump has suggested on Twitter and in public speeches in recent days that he believes Hart was biased and that Stone deserves a new trial or to have the case dropped altogether.

During the jury selection process, known asvoir dire, Hart was referred to not by name but a 4-digit juror number. However, her public reference to her service on the Memphis school board and an unsuccessful congressional run made it relatively easy for journalists to identify her.

POLITICO reached out to Hart immediately after the trial, but she did not respond to messages then or follow-up inquiries in recent days.

It is unclear whether Jackson intended to hear from Hart Tuesday. A court filing from the defense Friday said the judge had not yet decided whether to interview any jurors in connection with the new-trial motion.

Stone’s lawyers also sought to have Jackson recuse herself from the pending motion, but she rejected that move Sunday in a stinging decision that rebuked the defense for using the court’s docket to accuse her publicly of bias.

Trump has also sent several tweets accusing Jackson of bias–defying a public request from Attorney General Bill Barr that he stop making public statements about pending cases and the judges handling them.

On Tuesday morning, as Trump was traveling in India, his account retweeted a four-day old Fox News web post in which a former Democratic Party lawyer, David Schoen, asserted that Jackson’s excoriation of Stone at his sentencing Thursday showed that her bias had infected his whole trial.

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