Medical emergencies and Milo Yiannopoulos: Roger Stone’s trial opens
Roger Stone arrives at the federal court on Tuesday. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
Only minutes after the first potential juror took the witness stand, Roger Stone abruptly left the courtroom, apparently ill. Moments later, a spectator started moaning and collapsed.
Everyone from the judge to the spectators — which included alt-right media activist Milo Yiannopoulos — was left baffled.
It was a fittingly unpredictable opening to the trial of the longtime conservative provocateur, a multiweek affair that’s expected to be heavy on spectacle and colorful characters. Stone is fighting charges he lied to Congress and obstructed its 2016 Russia investigation, and Tuesday was slated for jury selection.
But Stone never made it through the day. After a lunch break, he went to the courtroom lectern and said he wanted the proceedings to continue without him.
“I have, apparently, some food poisoning,” Stone told District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “I don’t want to waste the court’s time or the time of the jurors.”
Jackson told him he wasn’t obliged to explain further. “I don’t need more details,” the judge said.
After making sure he understood his “absolute constitutional right” to be present for all parts of his trial, Jackson agreed to continue with one-by-one-questioning of potential jurors, which seemed likely to continue through Tuesday and perhaps into Wednesday.
“You will be well represented in your absence,” the judge said. “I hope you get the rest and attention you need and that you are feeling better tomorrow.”
With that, Stone exited the courtroom, clutching a Gatorade bottle and flanked by his wife and daughter. He left in a waiting SUV, offering only a wave in response to a question about how he was feeling.
Stone’s unexpected departure came after a tumultuous morning, with two rapid-fire events forcing a 45-minute delay right off the bat, after the questioning of only the first of 80 potential jurors.
And that first juror was an only-in-Washington character, a former Obama-era press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget whose husband still works at the Justice Department division that played a role in the Russia probe that ultimately snagged Stone. She acknowledged having negative views of President Donald Trump and said she had followed the media coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Still, the woman said she did not have strong views about Stone, and Jackson denied a request from Stone’s lawyers to strike the woman as a potential juror.
It was after that exchange that the proceedings on the second floor of the federal courthouse in Washington got strange. First, Stone got up and asked his wife to join him as he left the courtroom. With the defendant absent, the packed room got quiet while the judge appeared confused.
Then a spectator sitting in the back row moaned loudly and collapsed. Jackson adjourned the proceedings and cleared the courtroom while medical personnel and Stone’s daughter, a trauma nurse, attended to the sick man. After about 15 minutes, the man walked out of the courtroom on his own and the fire department took him out of the building on a stretcher.
Court personnel wearing rubber gloves arrived and started cleaning the area in the courtroom where the man fell ill, as well as in the hallway outside the courtroom.
The proceedings resumed with Stone back at the defense table, though he appeared visibly shaken and a bit ashen. Three more potential jurors were deemed qualified.
At one point, Stone was resting his head on one of his hands. That prompted some private consultations at the judge’s bench, followed by Jackson calling for a lunch break. She said she hoped proceedings would resume “more energetically after an hour and some fresh air.”
Stone seemed to be steadying himself as he walked through the courthouse arm-in-arm with his wife and daughter. As soon as the midday recess was called, the trio and one of Stone's lawyers proceeded directly to the ground floor and entered the courthouse's health unit.
There were a number of indications that Stone had fallen ill earlier in the day. At one point, a maintenance worker entered the men’s restroom nearest the courtroom and announced she’d been told she was needed to clean up an “accident.” At another point, other personnel arrived and began vacuuming a patch of carpet nearby.
Even before the health issues arose, the Stone trial had all the makings of a Washington circus. Outside the courthouse, protesters chanted "Roger Stone did nothing wrong!" as the longtime Trump associate went inside.
As the public lined up outside the courtroom, Bill Christensen, a political activist who has been holding up signs at Mueller-related hearings for the last two-plus years, called out to Stone as he walked past: “Hey, you’re going to get to see Manafort.”
Stone supporters like Yiannopoulos and former Trump 2016 campaign adviser Michael Caputo attended the first day of jury selection, as well.
In all, 80 potential jurors arrived Tuesday for the start of the Stone trial — slightly more women than men.
As jury selection slowly unfolded, Stone’s defense appeared to be objecting to the seating of any government employees — a stance that could significantly complicate selecting a jury in the nation’s capital.
Of the initial four potential jurors questioned, all were current or former government employees.
Jackson said she did not think that it was right to assume jurors who work for the federal government are “antithetical” to Trump.
“At this point, Donald Trump is the chief executive of the federal government for whom these individuals work,” the judge said.
Jackson also rebuffed the defense’s suggestion that anyone hostile to Trump or supportive of his political opponents not be accepted as a juror.
“He is not charged with supporting Donald Trump for president. That is a lawful thing to do,” the judge said as she declared that simply having served in the Obama administration would not be considered disqualifying.
One woman said she’d heard about Stone having a social-media run in with the judge, an apparent reference to his landing in hot water over an Instagram post that showed crosshairs next to a photo of Jackson. Another potential juror, an IRS lawyer, said she’d heard Stone was arrested in “an early raid.”
A Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer also questioned for the jury mentioned on her questionnaire that she’d voted for Hillary Clinton. Stone’s attorneys tried to have her dismissed over that fact, but Jackson said her vote alone wouldn’t be enough to have her stricken from the pool.
Jackson said she’s seeking to come up with a pool of about 32 potential jurors. After that group is selected, prosecutors and Stone’s defense each will have a chance to strike individuals from the pool at their discretion. A total of 12 jurors and two alternatives are expected to be seated for the trial.
Jackson told the group that whoever gets picked can expect the trial to last two to three weeks and that they should be prepared to be on duty through Thanksgiving week.
But Jackson said the jurors would not have to come to court the Wednesday before the holiday unless they agreed to it.
“Turkey will be enjoyed,” she said.
via POLITICO https://ift.tt/2NI64vZ