The criminal trial of US President Donald Trump‘s longtime adviser Roger Stone is set to begin on Tuesday on charges arising from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Russian interference to help Trump win the 2016 US election.
The trial could renew attention on efforts by Trump’s 2016 campaign to capitalise on emails embarrassing to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton that US intelligence officials have concluded were stolen by Russian state-backed hackers. It also coincides with the impeachment inquiry against the Republican president in the House of Representatives over Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
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Mueller’s investigation, which concluded in March, led to criminal charges against several Trump advisers and campaign aides. Stone is just the second from this group not to plead guilty. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted by a Virginia jury last year and is now serving a prison sentence of seven and a half years.
Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster” and “agent provocateur”, has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. That committee is now spearheading the impeachment inquiry.
Stone, a Republican operative since the days of the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, has been a friend and ally of Trump for some 40 years. Stone has a tattoo of Nixon’s smiling face on his back.
The trial kicks off on Tuesday with jury selection set to start at 9:30am local time (14:30GMT), and opening statements could begin as soon as Wednesday, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said on Monday. The trial could last at least two weeks.
Stone is accused of lying to US politicians investigating Russian election interference about the Trump campaign’s efforts to obtain the hacked emails that were published by the WikiLeaks website to undercut Clinton’s candidacy.
The indictment refers to an October 2016 email from a “high-ranking Trump Campaign official” asking Stone to inquire about future releases of emails by “Organization 1”, a reference to WikiLeaks. Stone responded that “Organization 1” would release “a load every week going forward”. The election was in November 2016.
The high-ranking official is believed to be former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is among potential trial witnesses along with Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, radio host Randy Credico and conservative author Jerome Corsi.
Those four were mentioned in a questionnaire sent to prospective jurors listing people who could be called as witnesses or discussed during the trial.
Also mentioned was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though he is not expected to appear. Assange is in London fighting extradition to the United States on charges of conspiring to hack government computers and violating a federal espionage law.