Trump’s tweet came a day after reports that Tomeka Hart, a former president of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners, had identified herself as the forewoman of the jury in a Facebook post, saying she “can’t keep quiet any longer” in the wake of the Justice Department’s efforts to seek a more lenient sentence for Stone than the seven to nine years recommended by front-line prosecutors.
“It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors,” Hart said in the post, the authenticity of which CNN reported was verified by Hart. “They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.”
Reports on Hart’s post prompted widespread scrutiny of her other social media postings, including some that suggested animus toward Trump.
Stone’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20. A jury convicted Stone in November on charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his efforts to gather damaging information about Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton.
Although Hart was not named by the trial court, the juror’s identity was always known to both Stone’s defense and prosecutors throughout pretrial proceedings, and she disclosed her background, including a Democratic bid for Congress, in public pretrial jury selection proceedings.
Stone’s defense and his trial judge had the opportunity to question Hart directly and challenge her eligibility.
Potential jurors were also asked if they, any close friend or family member had ever run for or held federal, state or local office, and if they had formed any opinion about Trump or Clinton, or if their possible connection in the case “would make it difficult for you to be fair and impartial to both sides?”
Given heavy pretrial publicity, the court required all potential jurors to answer questionnaires specifically designed to probe potential bias. Jackson also directed them not to read, watch or listen to any media coverage about the case, communicate with others about it or go online to seek out related information.
The questionnaire required prospective jurors to disclose if they have “written or posted anything for public consumption” about Stone or the House or special counsel investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It also explicitly asked if they formed or expressed any opinion about Stone, including his guilt or innocence.
It is not known how Hart answered the social media question, or whether she had commented publicly on Stone. But Hart, in jury screening observed by the public, said she had not formed an opinion about Stone, and was seated after both sides had a chance to press her. Hart’s identity was apparent to observers, but court rules forbid naming jurors publicly.
The Supreme Court standard for juror qualification is that they need not “be totally ignorant of the facts and issues involved … It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.”
According to a court ruling released Wednesday, Stone’s defense did move, unsuccessfully, to seek a new trial alleging bias by another juror, but not Hart.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson posted a 15-page order in which she denied a sealed and previously unknown motion by Stone in the fall for a new trial on grounds that the second juror allegedly favored the prosecution because of her role as a tax attorney.
Jackson rejected Stone’s contention that the juror, one of 1,400 career attorneys at the Internal Revenue Service, was prejudiced because the agency has interests in prosecuting criminal tax matters. She found that the juror’s work involved civil tax administration for large businesses and that she had no interaction with the Justice Department.
Jackson also said the juror’s acknowledgment in pretrial screening that her spouse showed her a newspaper article about the trial did not violate the court’s instructions to avoid media coverage.
Trump’s use of the word “Justice,” in quotes, in his tweet to refer to the Justice Department reprises an attack he used regularly when Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in charge, and might be an ominous sign for current Attorney General William P. Barr.
Trump grew to loathe Sessions over his recusal from the investigation into whether his campaign coordinated with Russia, and he subjected his attorney general to constant public humiliation as he toyed with removing him from his post.
Barr and Trump have seemed to enjoy a far better relationship; Trump on Wednesday praised the chief U.S. law enforcement official for intervening in the Stone case, which prompted four career prosecutors to withdraw from it in an apparent protest.
But Trump has also privately and publicly raged over what he sees as the department’s failures to charge those he considers political foes, including former FBI director James B. Comey and former deputy director Andrew McCabe.
Stone’s defense has asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age, 67, and lack of criminal history.
On Tuesday, Trump criticized as unduly harsh the initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years made by front-line prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department signaled that it would seek a more lenient sentence for Stone, a move that prompted the four career prosecutors to withdraw from the case — and one to resign from the government.
Hours later, Trump targeted Jackson for her treatment of another ally of his, Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and suggested that the judge had been soft on Clinton.
“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” the president wrote, sharing a tweet that named Jackson as the judge who sentenced Manafort.
Mueller defendants and trial judges wrestled with the potential for partisan bias in Trump-related cases, especially in the heavily liberal-leaning and politics-saturated nation’s capital, a debate that U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III settled in rejecting a request to move the trial of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort from neighboring Alexandria.
Ellis, a Republican presidential appointee, ruled that Manafort was not entitled to a completely ignorant jury, nor one with as many Republicans as Democrats.
Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.