WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone faced an uphill battle in court on Thursday, as a federal judge poked holes in nearly every argument his lawyers made for why she should dismiss an indictment stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson repeatedly expressed skepticism about everything from claims the case violates the U.S. constitution to allegations the indictment is defective because Congress never formally asked the Justice Department to investigate Stone for perjury or obstruction.
In one striking exchange, Stone’s attorney Bruce Rogow pointed to a dissenting opinion by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to support his claim that the Constitution prohibits the executive branch’s Justice Department from investigating Trump or members of his campaign under its Vesting Clause.
“Is there any reason why, as a district court judge, I am supposed to apply the law of a dissent, no matter how well written or thoughtful one might consider it to be, when there is authority otherwise?” she asked.
“The Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon specifically said that the executive branch can investigate the executive branch. Um, I’m not bound by that?” she asked, referring to the landmark unanimous case ordering President Richard Nixon to turn over tapes and other subpoenaed materials.
“You are,” Rogow then conceded.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges of making false statements to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering as part of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
He is accused of lying to investigators for the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee who were looking into allegations that Russia hacked the emails of senior Democrats.
The indictment against Stone also says he told members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign that he had advance knowledge of plans by the WikiLeaks website to release damaging emails about Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Mueller, who completed his investigation on March 22, on Wednesday made his first public statement on the probe since it started two years ago.
While the probe uncovered multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did not establish a criminal conspiracy. Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.
Stone is one of more than 30 individuals who have faced charges brought by or stemming from Mueller’s probe.
His attorneys contended their client is being targeted for selective prosecution and are hoping for access to unredacted portions of the Mueller report for evidence.
Jackson raised doubts about the idea that Stone was targeted, citing a host of others also charged with lying in connection with the Russia probe.
She sounded more sympathetic to a request to obtain materials from the redacted report, however, especially since more than 400 pages was already public, she said.
She said she had reviewed some of the redacted portions herself. A lot of it seemed “duplicative” to what the government already provided and “therefore largely harmless,” she said.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall