Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone takes ill during jury selection for trial

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's longtime adviser Roger Stone, looking pale and sick, left a federal courthouse complaining of food poisoning on Tuesday as his trial began with jury selection in a case stemming from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The 67-year-old veteran Republican political operative - a self-described "dirty trickster" and "agent provocateur" - has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Stone appeared ill during the proceedings in which jurors were being chosen from a pool of about 80 people. He cradled his forehead in his hands, had a sweaty brow, leaned on his wife while walking and left the proceedings at midday, telling the U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson he had food poisoning.

"I want to apologize to the court. I don't want to waste the court's time," Stone told Jackson, as he waived his right to participate in the jury selection process. "I hope to be better tomorrow."

"I will excuse you. I hope you get rest," Jackson told him.

Jury selection got off to a slow start, with the judge denying most of the requests by defense lawyers to exclude potential jurors they fear could be biased against Stone.

Opening statements could begin as soon as Wednesday, and the trial could last at least two weeks. Prosecutors said they expect to be able to rest their case against Stone by next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Stone, wearing a gray suit and sunglasses, earlier arrived at the courthouse in the U.S. capital to a mixture of jeers and cheers.

"Hey, you're going to get to see Manafort," one person yelled, referring to Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is now serving a prison sentence of 7-1/2 years. Others shouted "Roger Stone did nothing wrong."

At the outset of Tuesday's proceedings, Jackson said she would not agree to strike prospective jurors just because they work for the federal government or because they have opinions about Trump.

That warning did not stop Stone's lawyers from trying to strike the very first one, a woman who once served as a communications director for the White House Office of Management and Budget under Democratic President Barack Obama and whose husband is a Justice Department national security attorney.

"She said credibly she doesn't have an opinion on this case," Jackson said as she denied the motion.

Related: Roger Stone through the years

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Roger Stone through the years
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Roger Stone through the years
Political advisor Roger Stone poses for a portrait following an interview in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Attorney Roy Cohn (c.) with Roger Stone (l.) and Mark Fleischman (r.). (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City. Potential members of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet have been meeting with him and his transition team over the last few weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater are young political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo By Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Roger Stone, Ex-Donald Trump Advisor, talks with Jonathan Alter during an episode of Alter Family Politics on SiriusXM at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Political operative Roger Stone attends rally on the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in downtown Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The convention runs through July 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
HILTON HOTEL MIDTOWN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2016/07/16: Roger Stone attends Donald Trump introduction to Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 19: Roger Stone attends Roger Stone Exclusive Photo Session on August 19, 1987 at Alan Flusser Boutique in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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'VERY CORRUPT'

The judge also blocked subsequent efforts by Stone's defense to strike prospective jurors who worked for the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of whom acknowledged she had voted against Trump.

"Donald Trump is the chief executive for whom these individuals work," Jackson said.

Some prospective jurors were excluded because they indicated the could not put aside their dislike of Trump.

"I think he's very corrupt," one prospective said of Trump.

The trial may renew attention on efforts by Trump's 2016 campaign to capitalize on emails embarrassing to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence officials concluded were stolen by Russian state-backed hackers.

Mueller concluded his investigation in March. The probe documented Russian efforts to boost Trump's candidacy and led to criminal charges against several Trump advisers and campaign aides. Stone and Manafort were the only two from this group not to plead guilty. Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury last year.

Stone is accused of lying to the Intelligence Committee in its probe of Russian election interference about the Trump campaign's efforts to obtain the hacked emails that were published by the Wikileaks website to harm Clinton's candidacy. The Democratic-led panel is now spearheading the House impeachment inquiry against the Republican president over Trump's request that Ukraine investigate a Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

A Republican operative since the days of the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, Stone has been a friend and ally of Trump for some 40 years. He has a tattoo of Nixon's smiling face on his back. A demonstrator outside the courthouse held a sign asking Stone if he would get a tattoo of Trump as well.

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Will Dunham)

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