The Government Accuses Roger Stone of Being a Disorganized Figure Who Committed a Crime

The government and Roger Stone are arguing over whether prosecutors can show the Frank Pentangeli clip from the Godfather II at his trial. Last month, the government argued they need to show the clip to explain the context of Stone’s orders to Randy Credico to ““Start practicing your Pantagele.”

The clip of Pentangeli’s testimony is directly relevant to the charge of witness tampering in this case (count 7). To prove that charge, the government must prove that Stone corruptly persuaded or attempted to corruptly persuade a witness (Person 2), intended to interfere in that witness’s testimony, and did so with a current or future proceeding in mind. See 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1); United States v. Edlind, 887 F.3d 166, 172-174 (4th Cir. 2018). Several of the allegedly criminal acts at issue involve Stone’s referencing Pentangeli and Pentangeli’s testimony before Congress. To understand Stone’s messages to Person 2—including what Stone was asking Person 2 to do—it is necessary to understand those references. Taken in context, Stone’s references to Pentangeli and to specific lines spoken by Pentangeli are unmistakable. This clip is highly probative of the meaning of Stone’s communications to Person 2.


Watching the movie clip and seeing the context in which Pentangeli delivers the lines that Stone quotes to Person 2 makes clear that Stone’s messages were not mere references to Person 2’s abilities as an impressionist, but rather were a suggestion that Person 2 testify falsely to Congress. The clip is an important piece of evidence on this critical, disputed issue.

In response, in one of their most seriously argued filings, Stone’s team argued the clip would unduly link Stone with the mafia (though they got the role Stone would play in the analogy wrong).

Any reference to “The Godfather” (regardless of which one) brings up a clear and unalienable connection to the Italian-American Mafia. Any attempts to compare the conduct of Stone to that of an alleged mafia member, testifying that he murdered on the orders of ‘the Godfather’ will instantly create a connection in the minds of the jurors that Stone is somehow similar to a murderous mafioso.


Stone objects because unlike the other movies and interviews cited by the government, the Godfather trilogy is iconic and its themes and implications are known by most people who are potential jurors. A clip of the movie triggers the implication of the entire series – cold, calculated, violence and crime.3 Once a Mafia connection is made the damage will be done.

In a footnote, Stone’s lawyers suggest that the government didn’t include a transcript because it would alert Judge Amy Berman Jackson to how damning the clip would be. They claim to include a transcript as an exhibit.

The government either assumes the Court is necessarily familiar with the movie clip from the Godfather II, or recognizes that if it were to see it the nature of its improper character evidence and unfairly prejudicial clip would be apparent. The transcript of the scene is presented as Exhibit – 1, the movie clip itself is presented here (click here).

Today, the government responded, in part, by suggesting that showing the clip would not be unfairly prejudicial, it would just fully explain the crime Stone allegedly committed.

As the D.C. Circuit has observed, Rule 403 does not apply to “powerful, or even ‘prejudicial’ evidence” but instead “focuses on the ‘danger of unfair prejudice.’” United States v. Gartmon, 146 F.3d 1015, 1021 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (Court’s emphasis). This means “an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one.” Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172, 192 (1997). While the scene from The Godfather Part II may be dramatic in some sense, Stone chose to reference it, and Rule 403 “does not provide a shield for defendants . . . permitting only the crimes of Caspar Milquetoasts to be described fully to a jury.”

In a footnote, however, they note that the transcript Stone included inaccurately described both the words and actions from the movie.

Stone’s response attached a purported transcript of the clip at issue. See Doc. 171, Ex. 1. This transcript is inaccurate in several respects, including the words transcribed and actions described. The government respectfully suggests that the Court review the film clip itself, and the government can make a copy available for the Court’s review upon request.

In point of fact, they didn’t make the transcription errors themselves; they just used an an early draft of the screenplay they found online. (h/t AL) The miscitation is ironic, though, in part because Stone appears to be prepping a challenge to the accuracy of the transcript of his interview with HPSCI, and also because it’s clear from Stone’s references to the scene in communications to Credico that he knows the scene better than whoever lazily just copied this from the web.

Ultimately, though, it shows that even in Stone’s most aggressively argued motion, his defense is still (as it has been repeatedly) totally disorganized and sloppy.

He might have done better arguing he has nothing in common with The Godfather because he’s a disorganized crime figure.

(h/t WB for the pun.)

47 replies
  1. Willis Warren says:

    The entire world is gonna crash our economy to make sure this shit head isn’t reelected, and on TOP of that, his asshole rat fucking buddy is gonna go down in flames in court? No way he doesn’t get pardoned.

  2. David B Pittard says:

    In the Godfather film trilogy, no one ever spoke the word “Mafia” according to the interesting explanation in Season 4, episode 9 of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. One might argue, therefore, that a scene from Godfather II does not, as Stone’s attorneys argue, bring “up a clear and unalienable connection to the Italian-American Mafia,” but only a clear explanation, by way of an implicitly understood example, of how through subtlety Stone violated the law and retained deniability (the plausibility of which the jury will determine).

    • bmaz says:

      I think it is an interesting issue. Though I agree with DOJ that the clip really “is” necessary for a jury to understand the code Stone and Credico were using. It is more probative than it is prejudicial, and that is the general standard.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Agree with bmaz. Stone was not citing a script, even an accurate one. He was making a cultural reference. Its meaning depends on context, best conveyed by the film clip.

      For starters, there’s the prison-interview scene between Hagen and Pentangeli. Its meaning derives from casting, physical clues, and body language not in the script. It depends on its place in the film, the film itself, and its public perception.

      Frank Pentangeli sacrificed himself in the manner of a Roman senator, in exchange for a promise he considered binding: Michael Corleone’s promise to protect his family. Absent the context, Pentangeli just bled out in the bath.

      Another example. Tim Griffin is a modestly talented acolyte of Karl Rove. Rove raised him from lowly oppo researcher to short-term US Attorney, congresscritter, and now Lt. Governor of Arkansas.

      When Griffin told his BushCheney oppo research team to “Unleash Hell!” he was not telling them to work hard. He meant sacrifice yourselves in an all-out effort to figuratively destroy your enemies. It comes from the phrase’s use in, The Gladiator. He hoped to benefit vicariously from the lead character’s energy, charisma, and success. Demonstrating that would require seeing the film clip.

    • dwfreeman says:

      The hearing scenes are important as plot points in the film narrative and a response to historical precedent for any number of reasons.

      In the first hearing scene, the word Mafia is twice spoken, once by Sen. Pat Geary and then by Michael Corleone who also uses the term, Cosa Nostra, “Our Thing” or “the thing of ours” which the Italians called it, using the preceding article “La”

      The scenes are Francis Ford Coppola’s homage to the October 1963 Joseph Valachi or Ark Sen. John Mclleland hearings on organized crime, which drew huge news coverage at the time.

      As a political effort, it was strongly backed by then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the hearings represented the first time the Mafia was ever publicly acknowledge as an organized criminal enterprise.

      For decades, the Mafia was allowed to operate and grow without fear of prosecution by federal authorities and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who officially denied its existence in spite of widespread evidence of its criminal influence.

      The significance of the hearings were wiped out by JFK’s assassination information a month afterard. But when televised, they held the nation in thrall as Valachi detailed in vivid testimony the life of a low level mafia figure in the Genovese New York crime family. He offered an inside look at the rituals, history and operations of New York’s five crime families, their membership and leaders, helping to clear up a number of murders, through his appearance.

      In 1964, Valachi would be persuaded by the Justice Department to document his criminal career in writing, resulting in an 1,800 page manuscript that would later become known as the Valachi Papers and eventually lead to a movie of the same title, starring Charles Bronson as Valachi, in 1972. The movie, based on a third person account of Valachi’s story as told by Peter Maas, was released in November 1972 six months after Coppola’s highly anticipated Godfather saga opened.

    • Anne says:

      Mafiosi don’t use the word “mafia.” As you all seem to know, the Siciilian one is Cosa Nostra. In Calabria it’s La ‘Ndrangheta (; in Campania, it’s La Camorra, ( and in Puglia it’s La Sacra Corona Unita ( Newspaper stories (and police films) refer to the various families and form adjectives: i corleonesi are affiliates of the Corleone family and so forth. In general, a mafioso is “un uomo d’onore,” a man of honor.
      Good information in “Addio Cosa Nostra” by Pino Arlacchi, a biography of Tommaso Buscetta, the first “pentito” who helped the FBI understand organized crime. Wish I still had the copy I read. Also good reading: Roberto Saviano. Hear he’s got a new film out,
      Bottom line: these folks thrive because they’re professionals. The GOP buffoons in Washington wouldn’t survive a day working with them.

      • oldoilfieldhand says:

        As it was explained to me by my friend, Rafael, a real-life Sicilian contractor:
        The term mafia, translates to “my daughter”. According to Rafael, who I believe spoke from familial knowledge, the Mafia originated from a group of peasants, organized in Sicily, to protect their families and prevent their daughters from becoming prey to rich landowners and corrupt officials. Just how it became the premiere criminal organization in America, inflicting more harm than protection on the rest of their people is anyone’s guess…power corrupts after all.

        • Anne says:

          The history I read (sorry, I don’t have the book any more) suggested this goes back to the early 1800s, when noble landowning families (latifondisti) who wanted to live the social life in the cities needed an armed militia to keep the peasants in their place. So, just the opposite of what your friend suggests. agrees, suggesting it goes back even more centuries.
          And yeah, “mafia” does sound like “mia figlia” or whatever it is in Siculo (Sicilian), but linguists disagree on the origins of the term, some citing words in medieval Arabic or Toscano.
          How it became powerful: professionalism, institutional lessons passed down through generations, and discipline. Like, don’t cheat on your wife, be a good Catholic, don’t do drugs or other stupid stuff, don’t shoot cops … and today, don’t use electronic communications …. For example, when I visited Palermo around 1986, alone and obviously foreign, people told me not to worry about pickpockets. Tourists are protected, because Cosa Nostra owns the hotels and self-employed independent thieves don’t have permission from the bosses to touch the tourists. If you want to be a criminal, you have to join the organization and obey the rules.
          Geez, these Trumpisti are really incompetent criminals.

  3. David Troutman says:

    This is something hat should not even matter, personally I think roger stone is a creepy old guy with illusions of grandeur but realistically if this godfather analogy is so important that it has to be part of the case I say set him fee….the Republican party is full of creepy white guys with illusions of grandeur. Certainly the case against him does not hang on this comparison, it is just a bunch of lawyers having a posting contest.

    • bmaz says:

      “Certainly the case against him does not hang on this comparison”.

      Actually, it kind of does. It is direct material evidence to the elements of the witness tampering charge.

    • Elijah says:

      Pissing, not posting, contest. The Govt also specializes in swearing or affidavit contests. The Govt attorneys always have the presumption of Truthfulness card to play. Same thing with bad or dirty cops. The best cops become the best criminals & the best criminals could become the best cops. Either way, truth & ethical adherence is a rarity with Govt cops & prosecutors. Been that way for decades. Just look up the National Exoneration Registry of the 200+ death row convictions overturned in just the last 15 years. Lots of innocent people were executed in the US, mostly poor black scapegoats

      • timbo says:

        From bmaz’s post earlier:

        David Troutman: Certainly the case against him does not hang on this comparison.

        Bmaz: Actually, it kind of does. It is direct material evidence to the elements of the witness tampering charge.

        Just so we’re clear on who gets the last word in this subthread…

        • Democritus says:

          Thank to all you guys for keeping the field clear :)

          Oh hey, I was coming to share this. I can get really frustrated with David Frum, like his no vacancy cover at the Atlantic- was not amused, but all the same I do think, in his way, Frum is patriotic and genuinely tries to do what he thinks is right. (I, if not enjoy, try to make a point to read people I disagree with so long as I think they argue in good faith. Growing up in a conservative household, and working in a conservative industry, I learned to agree to disagree so long as they would do the same.)

          Here is him calling out the Trumps antifa antics to distract from his racially stoked stochastic terrorism.

        • dwfreeman says:

          There are many things Marcy has informed me of right here in this room. She taught me: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

  4. Peterr says:

    From Team Stone’s filing, quoted above:

    Any reference to “The Godfather” (regardless of which one) brings up a clear and unalienable connection to the Italian-American Mafia. Any attempts to compare the conduct of Stone to that of an alleged mafia member, testifying that he murdered on the orders of ‘the Godfather’ will instantly create a connection in the minds of the jurors that Stone is somehow similar to a murderous mafioso.

    Help me out here. Stone appears to be admitting that when Stone chose to make reference to The Godfather in his communications with Credico, he thereby chose to instantly create a connection in the mind of Credico between Stone and a murderous mafioso — because that’s what happens when someone makes reference to that movie.

    The prosecution must be delighted to hear this from Stone’s lawyers. Can you say “admission against interest”? Sure you can.

  5. Frank Probst says:

    My general rule is “Never bet against @bmaz.” But I think they have a valid point. The movies ARE iconic and will have more “oomph” than a clip from some random other movie. I don’t think they’re going to win the argument, but now I’m dying to see what the judge has to say about the cultural significance of The Godfather movies. The footnotes are going to be more fun than usual, I think.

    • bmaz says:

      Hey now, I just said it was a fascinating evidentiary issue! It is a hard call and I have no idea what ABJ will do with it. I was not kidding though, the standard really is a balancing test of “is it more probative or more prejudicial”? Judges deal with this all the time, and you never know where they land in any given case or issue.

      If I were ABJ, I’d let it in; Stone himself set this premise up via his tampering code. It is not like the prosecution just pulled the Godfather bit out as a killer graphic or something, the question exists solely because of Stone’s own actions and statements. But judges hate hard things that serve as immediate appellate arguments. So, we shall see.

      • Democritus says:

        I noticed that you hadn’t quite pinned yourself down, and was wondering where you would land if you had to make the call :)

      • OldTulsaDude says:

        Speaking as someone who has a 12-year-old granddaughter, it is debatable whether a 1974 movie can have much of an impact on 40-ish and unders, unless it is Godfather and the Force.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I think that’s a two-edged sword. The movie is iconic. Many of its characters and scenes have entered into and remain a part of popular culture. They join other movie moments: “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business,” and “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

      Stone intentionally played off the coded messaging – immediately recognizable to his generation – in the Pentageli-Hagen scene for his own purposes.

      He inflated his ego and assumed the role of Tom Hagen, top adviser to the Don, to motivate a subordinate to do what needed to be done. In exchange, the subordinate would be taken care of, but only if he went all the way.

      Had Stone referred to Sonny at the toll booth, the prejudice might outweigh the probative value. He didn’t. The imagery of the Pentageli-Hagen bargain deserves to be admitted.

      • errant aesthete says:

        Completely agree with your conclusion and your as-always ‘on-the-nose’ observations.

        As someone said earlier—upstream, your commentary is always so rich, vast, knowledgeable, interesting and meticulously stated.

        While egos in the Trump era are certainly inflated and massive, I would venture to say Stone’s has no equal. He is so thoroughly invested in channeling the essence of the character of Tom Hagen and his significance to the Don, in the regions of Stone’s mind, they are one and the same. While his lawyers will righteously complain, Stone will inwardly gloat.

    • Vicks says:

      “Phantom debt scams is/was a big money maker for the Russia mob eh?
      How about real debt? Debt parking? Double debt dipping.
      Trump claiming a loss of $916 million in 1995 still makes no sense for a guy who never uses his own money.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      Democritus, some of the names from the Patrick Simpson article you cite can also be found in the next post of Marcy’s about Mark Meadows.

      In the 7th paragraph down in that post, Marcy says:
      “Importantly, the main incidences where Ohr gave the FBI materials originating from Fusion — the materials include a timeline on Paul Manafort’s ties to oligarchs, a table showing Trump’s ties with suspect Russians…”

      If you click on the link for the table (by Ohr) that Marcy includes, you will see some names that Patrick Simpson mentioned. The table is extremely helpful.

  6. Tom says:

    Perhaps showing the film clip will work to Stone’s advantage. When we watch “The Godfather” films, we identify with the Corleone family. Although they are ruthless mobsters pursuing their own idea of the American Dream, we want them to succeed. Don Corleone, his sons, and their retainers are serious people with a sense of their own dignity and personal gravitas. As such, they command our respect, despite their heinous acts.

    Roger Stone, by comparison, is a lightweight character, a clown and a doofus, a consorter of lewd rodents. He’s the sort of person who (a) decides to get a tattoo of Richard Nixon, and (b) has it put on his back where he can’t even see it. Rather than associating Roger Stone with the mafia, I think seeing the film clip in court may make it obvious that he and his political dirty tricks are nowhere near the category of criminal behavior demonstrated by the fictional Corleone family. Although Stone was the one who invoked the Frank Pentangeli reference in the first place, any suggestion that he is as menacing a character as someone from “The Godfather” films might just seem ludicrous.

    • bmaz says:

      Oh, he is a clown and a doofus, for sure. Don’t know about lightweight though. Black, Manafort and Stone were extremely influential political operatives and lobbyists. He is a ratfucker, but one with some serious history.

      • Tom says:

        Yes, considering his political activities go back to his elementary school days when he claims to have been a supporter of JFK, calling him a lightweight doesn’t do him justice.

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