Federal judge holds off on deciding if "The Godfather" film scene can be played at Roger Stone trial

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By Charlie Gile and Safia Samee Ali  with NBC News Politics
Image: Roger Stone
Roger Stone, former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court in Washington on Wednesday.   -   Copyright  Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

A federal judge charted out a partial course of what may be presented at the upcoming trial of former Trump adviser Roger Stone on Wednesday, including possible testimony from Steve Bannon, but declined to say whether a clip from "The Godfather: Part II" could be shown to a jury.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson heard arguments on several motions presented by the Justice Department and defense attorneys for the November trial, in which Stone faces seven charges arising from the special counsel's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, including five counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction and one count of witness tampering.

During the hearing, defense attorneys revealed for the first time that former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon may be called as a witness in the trial, although it is unclear what role he will play in the defense's strategy.

One of the most contentious arguments during the hearing was whether a clip from "The Godfather: Part II" could be shown to the jury.

"How do you say Pentangeli?" asked Jackson, referring to Frank Pentangeli, a character from the film who is pressured to lie to a congressional committee to avoid incriminating Michael Corleone, the godfather.

Stone referred to the character in a text message he sent to radio personality Randy Credico, a key witness in the Mueller investigation who had contacts with Stone and WikiLeaks.

Stone told Credico to "do a 'Frank Pentangeli'" and also threatened to take away his dog, according to the federal indictment.

DOJ attorneys said showing the clip would provide crucial context to jurors regarding Stone's reference.

But Stone's defense team has been fighting against their request, arguing that it would be prejudicial by likening Stone to the mafia.

While Jackson agreed, she also thought that the clip was relevant. "If the movie was part of the defendant's shorthand," Jackson said, "It could certainly bear on the witness tampering charge."

Jackson urged both sides to come up with an alternate solution such as a transcript of the scene but prosecutors were reluctant, arguing that some of the impact would be lost without the video.

"I do just want to say there's something very important that's captured by seeing the film clip, rather than reading a transcript or having a stipulation of its meaning, which is, in contrast to something like a code word or piece of terminology that a drug dealer might use. Here, our point is that referencing the film clip, it actually conjures that image in the recipient of the message's mind," said Adam Jed, an attorney for the Department of Justice.

Ultimately Jackson decided to hold off on making a decision regarding the film clip.

Jackson did rule on a number of other motions, including that portions of the CrowdStrike report that investigated the DNC hack will not be admissible at trial. "It has no conceivable bearing on the defendants defense to these charges," she said.

Another pretrial conference is set for Nov. 4, one day before trial begins, to deal with any remaining arguments on evidence.