“ Don’t download The Godfather on Netflix.”
Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s instruction to the jury in the D.C. federal courtroom after a long day of winding testimony on Thursday was certainly unusual — but abnormal has become the norm in the trial of Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and flamboyant hatchet man. Stone is charged with repeatedly misrepresenting to Congress his 2016 attempt at collaborating with WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange to obtain dirt on and stolen emails from then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
But of all the names mentioned in the trial so far, perhaps the oddest has been actor Michael Gazzo’s Frank “Frankie Five Angels” Pentangeli — a former top adviser to Marlon Brando’s character Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part Two, who cooperates with the FBI only to perjure himself while in front of a Senate committee to protect Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone, Vito’s son, from being nailed by investigators for his massive mob enterprise.
Stone, who has a decadeslong reputation for having a flair for the dramatic and absurd, repeatedly urged comedian, impressionist, and radio show host Randy Credico to “practice your Frank Pentangeli” as investigators closed in on Stone.
So far, the case, a spin-off from special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation, has revolved around Stone’s alleged deceptions to Congress about his communications with InfoWars conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and Credico. Prosecutors say Stone tried to contact Assange by using Corsi and Credico as conduits, though he allegedly misled Congress in 2017 by concealing his WikiLeaks-related discussions with Corsi, telling the committee he’d reached out to WikiLeaks through Credico in August 2016 when he’d really done so through Corsi.
The Justice Department argued that Stone “lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad — it looked bad to the Trump campaign, and it looked bad to Donald Trump.” But Stone’s lawyer Bruce Rogow claimed Stone didn’t purposely mislead investigators because the committee’s publicly-stated scope “was about what Russia was doing — not about what WikiLeaks was doing.”
Stone allegedly worked to stop Credico from telling the House the truth for months.
“You are a rat. A stoolie. Backstab your friends. Run your mouth. I’m going to take that dog away from you. Nothing you can do about it,” Stone texted Credico in April 2018 in a reference to his fluffy white dog Bianca. “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die, c–ksucker.”
Stone has been charged with intimidating Credico, who took the stand as a government’s witness on Thursday after former FBI agent Michelle Taylor spent hours telling the jury about Stone’s evasions with Congress and about his calls, texts, and emails with a cast of characters including Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Erik Prince, Corsi, Credico, and others spanning a couple of years. Taylor, a former Mueller team member, said that during the timeframe when the House Intelligence Committee was seeking Credico’s testimony, Stone made two of his many references to Pentangeli, seven requests for Credico to plead the Fifth, and three requests for Credico not to speak with federal agents.
The judge previously ruled that DOJ wouldn’t be able to play the clip of the scene for the jury, so prosecutors had Taylor emphasize those texts from Stone, and recount in her own words the famous scene from the film, which she said she’d seen recently.
In the movie, the Senate committee chairman expresses high hopes that the government’s star witness Pentangeli “can corroborate our charges on enough counts for this committee to recommend a charge of perjury against Michael Corleone.” Another senator asks Pentangeli if he was a member of the Corleone family and served under “The Godfather.”
But Pentangeli suddenly reverses himself when he sees his brother and Michael Corleone show up for the hearing.
“I — I never knew no Godfather. I have my own family, Senator,” Pentangeli testifies in the film.
When pressed about his conflicting statements on the Corleone crime family as the committee room erupts in chaos, Pentangeli replies, “I don’t know nothin’ about that. Oh! I was in the olive oil business with his father, but that was a long time ago. That’s all.”
In March 2018, during one of the many Pentangeli references he makes to Credico, Stone texted that Credico should say, “‘Sure, I know Roger Stone, he was in the olive oil business with my father, but that was from a long time ago… Roger Stone this, Roger Stone that’…. You should do your Frank Pentangeli.”
Stone’s repeated references to the character were part of DOJ’s January indictment, which noted that Stone was pressuring Credico “to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony.”
Credico, who took the stand beginning Thursday afternoon, delivered rambling testimony — at times drawing laughter —spanning years of his interactions with Stone, denying that he had any communications with Assange in 2016 aside from one radio appearance by the WikiLeaks founder and disputing Stone’s claims to Congress that he’d been Stone’s “backchannel” or “intermediary” with WikiLeaks.
The prosecutor showed the jury an email where Credico had listed impressions he’d apparently offered to do as promotions for Stone’s radio show and asked the impressionist whether he’d ever done a Pentangeli impression for Stone.
Credico said he couldn’t recall ever having done that or offering to do that for Stone. Credico said he did a Pentangeli impression for a doorman friend of his from the 1970s and that it became an inside joke between the two of them, but that his impression wasn’t of the scene where Pentangeli testified falsely.
“I never did Frank Pentangeli in my act,” Credico said. “I did Pacino, I did Brando, but I never did Frank Pentangeli.”
“My impression is of Brando from The Godfather, not Brando from On The Waterfront,” Credico added, referring to the 1954 film in which Brando’s character struggles with testifying against his mob-connected boss.
Credico offered to show off his Bernie Sanders impression and seemed ready to show the court when the judge cut him off.
“We know you’re a comedian, but this is serious business,” Berman Jackson said.
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Credico replied.
Credico’s testimony continues Friday, when he will be cross-examined by Stone’s defense team.