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President Donald Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone lied to Congress "because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump," a federal prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of Stone's trial on charges that he lied to Congress.

Stone's lawyer, in turn, argued that his client never meant to lie to lawmakers about his efforts to gain insights about Democrats' hacked emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In an unusual gambit, Stone's lawyer Bruce Rogow argued that Stone's public claims about connections to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks were false, and that therefore he did not make false statements later to Congress.

Stone's trial was the last case filed by former special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, and prosecutors wasted little time drawing a straight line from Stone's charges to Trump's political interests.

"The evidence in this case will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump," prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who was a member of Mueller's team, told the jury of nine women and three men at the federal courthouse in Washington.

Gallery: Roger Stone and his wife Nydia arrive for his federal trial

Zelinsky said that on the evening of June 14, 2016 -- the day the Democratic National Committee announced its computer system had been hacked, and two days after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed to have thousands of emails "pending publication" -- Stone and then-candidate Trump exchanged telephone calls lasting just over four minutes.

Then, on June 30, which was the day Russian operatives using the online persona Guccifer 2.0 publicly claimed to be a hacker targeting Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, Stone again called Trump for 2 minutes 37 seconds, according to phone records introduced in court.

In late July, after WikiLeaks had begun releasing hacked Democratic National Committee material, Stone called Trump's phone, leading to a 10-minute call.

Prosecutors do not know what the two discussed but "about an hour after that call that Roger Stone had with then-candidate Trump, Roger Stone sent another email," Zelinsky said, asking a friend in London to try to contact Assange.

The prosecutor urged jurors to focus on Stone's conduct, not the broader controversies still swirling around the 2016 campaign.

"This case is not about who hacked the Democratic National Committee servers. This case is not about whether Roger Stone had any communications with Russians. And this case is not about politics," said Zelinsky. "This case is about Roger Stone's false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to obstruct the investigation and to tamper with evidence."

Stone, 67, a longtime Trump adviser and political consultant, has pleaded innocent to a seven-count indictment that charges him with false statements and witness tampering.

Prosecutors say he lied on several points: when he told the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that he did not have texts or emails about his 2016 discussions surrounding WikiLeaks, when he said that he had only one associate who tried to act as a go-between with Assange, and when he claimed that he never spoke to anyone in the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks' plans.

Zelinsky said Stone told those lies because if Congress had learned of his many emails and texts seeking details about what WikiLeaks had on Clinton, "it would have unraveled all of the other lies Roger Stone told."

Stone's lead defense attorney countered that Stone agreed to testify without a subpoena, and in public, thinking the questions would be about any contacts with Russians.

"The evidence will show that's not the usual way that people go to a committee hearing, certainly if they're intending to lie," said Rogow.

Stone, he said, was exercising his First Amendment rights during the election.

"Supporting the president or a candidate for president is not a crime of any sort," Rogow said. "We are not here to try Russian collusion; there has been no finding of Russian collusion with regard to Mr. Stone, no finding of Russian collusion with regard to the campaign."

The trial before Judge Amy Berman Jackson is expected to last about two weeks.

A Section on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: Stone defense says claims on WikiLeaks were false

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