Roger Stone charges shed new light on Trump campaign’s link to WikiLeaks
WASHINGTON – Federal agents arrested Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, Friday on charges that he had lied to investigators about efforts by top Trump campaign aides to learn about emails the Russian government had stolen from his political rivals.
Special counsel Robert Mueller revealed the charges, including counts of obstruction and witness tampering, after FBI agents arrested Stone at his Florida home before sunrise.
The charges against Stone offer the first view from prosecutors of efforts by members of the Trump campaign to obtain information about WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked documents that they believed would be damaging to Trump's 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Prosecutors have said the hacks were carried out by a Russian intelligence service. Prosecutors said one unnamed senior campaign official was "directed" to communicate with Stone about future releases of the stolen records.
"On multiple occasions, Stone told senior Trump Campaign officials about materials possessed by (WikiLeaks) and the timing of future releases," prosecutors wrote in an indictment unsealed Friday morning.
Stone said he had been "falsely accused." Speaking outside a Florida courthouse on Friday morning, he said that "after a two-year inquisition, the charges today relate in no way to Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal act in connection with the 2016 campaign."
The White House distanced itself from the Stone indictment. “This has nothing to do with the president,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. Trump dismissed the arrest in a post on Twitter as the "Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION!."
Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster,” is the latest Trump associate to face criminal charges in the investigation that has clouded the first two years of his administration. He has repeatedly said he is innocent and that Mueller is conducting a vendetta against him and the president.
In a 24-page indictment unsealed on Friday, prosecutors charged that in the summer of 2016, as Trump was securing the Republican nomination, Stone "spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign." Organization 1 is a reference to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published troves of documents stolen from Democratic political organizations.
Roger Stone indictment:Top takeaways from the 24-page report
Later, prosecutors said, "Stone was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1."
Mueller's office did not allege that Stone or other campaign aides worked with WikiLeaks to release the stolen records. Instead, they allege that Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee during its investigation of Russian election interference, and that he tried to conceal emails and other records the committee had requested.
Stone was indicted by a grand jury in Washington on Thursday. Mueller's office asked the judge to keep the charges secret until he could be arrested because they said disclosure would "increase the risk of the defendant fleeing and destroying (or tampering with) evidence." A team of FBI agents armed with rifles carried out the arrest at Stone's Fort Lauderdale home before sunrise on Friday.
Speaking outside a federal courthouse on Friday as protesters jeered, Stone accused the FBI of terrorizing his wife and dogs during his early morning arrest, and said he expected to be "fully and completely vindicated." He said he would not turn against the president as some of Trump's other former aides have, saying there is "no circumstances whatsoever under which i will bear false witness against the president."
Stone appeared briefly in federal court in Florida on Friday morning and was released on $250,000 bond. A handful of protesters gathered outside; one blared the Beatles song "Back in the USSR" from a speaker.
As Stone left court, he mimicked former President Richard Nixon's farewell salute, holding both arms over his head, his fingers extended into V's.
Democratic lawmakers said the charges against Stone – coupled with those against other members of the president's inner circle – raise new questions about Trump's own involvement. "Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn... What did the President know and when did he know it?" Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House judiciary committee, said on Twitter.
The head of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, said lawmakers "will be eager to learn just who directed a senior campaign official to contact Stone about additional damaging information held by Wikileaks, one of the publishing arms of Russian government hackers."
Among the allegations, according to the indictment:
– In the summer of 2016, a ”senior" official on Trump’s campaign was “directed to contact Stone” to learn about any other damaging information the organization had on Clinton’s campaign.
– On Oct. 3 of that same year, Stone emailed an unnamed person involved with the campaign to give them a heads-up about another release of information: “Spoke to my friend in London last night,” he wrote, a reference to Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder. “The payload is still coming.”
– After an Assange news conference on Oct. 4, one in which he did not provide any new materials about Clinton, the unnamed Trump campaign official emailed Stone to ask about whether the organization would be releasing more documents.
“A load every week going forward,” Stone replied.
– Stone allegedly told a witness he should do a “Frank Pentangeli” in his House testimony to avoid conflicting with Stone's testimony; Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film The Godfather: Part II who recanted his congressional testimony to avoid implicating mob boss Michael Corleone.
The indictment makes repeated references to Trump’s campaign, but doesn’t accuse the president himself or other officials of wrongdoing.
The president, who has denied any sort of collusion with the Russians during the election, has attacked Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt." Trump has also criticized the investigation's impact on his friends. Mueller, who has obtained indictments against Russians in connection with the plot to interfere in the 2016 election, made his first public indictment of an American.
The special counsel's office has obtained indictments or convictions of at least 32 people, including four connected to Trump's campaign: Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman; Rick Gates, Manafort's deputy; Michael Flynn, a campaign aide as well as, briefly, the National Security Adviser in the White House; and George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser.
In addition, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to tax evasion, lying to a bank and campaign finance violations that he said Trump was involved in. Cohen has spoken with investigators on Mueller's team.
As far back as a May interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," Stone said he was prepared to be indicted, and he criticized the investigation.
"This was supposed to be about Russian collusion," Stone said, "and it appears to be an effort to silence or punish the president’s supporters and his advocates."
Contributing: Alan Gomez in Fort Lauderdale