|ALEX MERTO / THE NEW YOK TIMES|
As surprises go, the indictment of longest-serving Donald Trump adviser and Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone for running interference between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign on Russian-hacked Democratic emails damaging to Hillary Clinton ranks right up there with the sun rising in the East. Which it did on cue Friday morning as FBI agents swarmed into Stone's South Florida home.
Even if there was an anticlimactic feeling about Stone's indictment, it strikes deep inside Trump's inner circle, is yet another blow to the beleaguered president and gives fresh ammunition to newly empowered House Democrats.
The 24-page indictment that triggered Stone's arrest is the most direct link yet between the campaign and WikiLeaks, stating that Stone -- acting as a backchannel of a sort -- obligingly contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was not identified by name, to obtain the emails at the request of "senior Trump Campaign officials."
While the indictment does not make clear who the senior officials were, it leaves open the possibility that Trump was involved, and from the get-go -- in fact, the very first words of the indictment -- it is noted that Russia's responsibility for the hacks was well known to Stone, the campaign and the candidate.
The brash and utterly hubristic Stone, who memorably said of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at the height of the 2016 campaign that his "time in the barrel" was at hand with an imminent WikiLeaks release, had long predicted his arrest in a series of taunts directed at Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Returning those compliments, Mueller charged Stone with one count of obstructing an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering.
"After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC [Democratic National Committee] emails . . . a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign. Stone thereafter told the Trump campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1," the indictment states.
The words was directed are a curious clue.
The smart money says that the senior official here was Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's longtime business partner and a deputy campaign manager. The indictment in other respects is anything but vague, and the vagueness of this paragraph -- typical for Mueller when he hasn't wanted to show his hand -- hints at Trump's involvement. After all, who but the candidate himself would have the authority to direct a senior official?
In August 2016, Stone claimed in multiple radio and television appearances to be in direct contact with Assange, whom he called "my hero," and bragged that he had advance knowledge of what damaging information would be released. When Wikileaks began releasing the documents on one month before the election, Stone claimed credit.
"On or about October 7, 2016, Organization 1 released the first set of emails stolen from the Clinton Campaign chairman," the indictment reads in a reference to Podesta. "Shortly after Organization 1's release, an associate of the highranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read 'well done.' "
Emails released by The New York Times last year between Stone and Steve Bannon, who had replaced the disgraced Manafort as one of the campaign's revolving door chairmen and was Trump's resident Svengali early in his presidency, suggest that he is the "highranking" official.Bannon apparently has cooperated with Mueller, reportedly spending some 20 hours in interviews with his prosecutors.
The events of October 7 are among the clearest indications that Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign were working in sync. The release of the more than 6,000 emails related to Podesta, came a mere 30 minutes after The Washington Post published a recording of Trump bragging on the set of "Access Hollywood" about assaulting women. The distraction worked.
After the election, Stone acknowledged exchanging what he characterized as benign messages with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter persona that was a front operated by Russia's GRU intelligence service. Some 12 GRU hackers were indicted by Mueller in July 2018.
Two other unnamed individuals in the indictment appear to be conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi (Person 1) and New York comedian Randy Credico (Person 2).
While Stone has repeatedly insisted that despite his boasts he had no contact with Russia or WikiLeaks, nor had advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks had, the indictment accuses the 66-year-old Stone of lying to the House Intelligence Committee by claiming that Credico was the "go-between" to Wikileaks. Indeed, the charges against Stone stem not from his original acts but from his lies about them.
As Mueller's investigation heated up, Stone continued to publicly identify Credico as the true "conduit" to Wikileaks, while behind the scenes, he allegedly threatened Credico in April 2018, purportedly calling him "a rat" and "a stoolie" in an email, the indictment alleges.
"You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds," Stone wrote. He later added that he would "take that dog away from you," an apparent reference to Credico’s therapy dog Bianca.
In May 2018, Credico wrote to Stone that "You should have just been honest with the house Intel committee . . . you’ve opened yourself up to perjury charges like an idiot," prosecutors say. To which Stone then replied, "You are so full of [expletive]."
|THE NEW YORK TIMES|
The use of Stone as a backchannel of a sort was to become a recurring tactic for Trump's acolytes.
On December 1, 2016, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and future national security adviser Michael Flynn met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, where Kushner proposed that a backchannel be set up between the Trump transition team and Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. to shield their discussions from monitoring. In late December 2016, Flynn served as a backchannel between the transition and Kislyak after the Obama administration toughened sanctions against Russia. And on January 11, 2017, Trump emissary Erik Prince met secretly with Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker said to be close to Vladimir Putin, in the Seychelles islands in an effort to establish a backchannel between Moscow and the president-elect.
As Stone was taken into custody at his Fort Lauderdale home, FBI agents were seen carrying hard drives and other evidence from Stone’s apartment in Harlem. Later Friday, Stone appeared before a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale in waist and ankle shackles. In contrast to his usually dapper dress, he wore a navy blue cotton polo shirt, bluejeans and his trademark round, black-rimmed glasses.
"There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself," Stone told reporters outside the courthouse after his release on $250,000 signature bond, which means he doesn't have to put up any money as long as he appears before the court when required.
Significantly, the indictment was the first since Trump named Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general, presumably as a foil to Mueller's ever-widening investigation, but it is pretty obvious that Whitaker chose not to intervene.
And the indictment is further evidence, as if it was needed, that from at least November 2015 through Election Day and beyond, key figures in the Trump campaign and Trump Organization were in regular contact with a number of cutouts close to Putin. In fact, according to a new New York Times analysis (see chart above), at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had over 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, and at least 10 other associates were told about the interactions. Stone alone had 18 contacts.
Stone got his start in politics working for President Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign and sports a tattoo on his back depicting the disgraced former president. He also worked on the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson, a Libertarian.
Trump and Stone first met in 1980 when Stone, Manafort and Charlie Black started a lobbying firm. Trump was one of their first clients.
Later in the 1980s, Gates joined the firm, which Spy magazine was to name the "sleaziest of all in the Beltway," while he, Manafort and Stone, among others, have now been taken down.
When Trump left the Republican Party and entered the 2000 presidential race as a Reform Party candidate, using Twitter as a way to try to build support, Stone was his political director. And in February 2016, it was Stone, possibly aware of Russia's interest in interfering in the election and seeing Manafort as an ideal addition to Trump's troubled campaign and an asset for Moscow, recommended him to Trump.
In late May 2016, Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign communications adviser, set up a meeting between Stone and Russian national Henry Greenberg, a one-time FBI informant. They met at a Sunny Isles, Florida restaurant where Greenberg reportedly offered the campaign damaging information about Clinton for $2 million.
"You don’t understand Donald Trump. He doesn't pay for anything," Stone told Greenberg.
Stone is Mueller's 37th indictment.
The special counsel's prosecutorial team also has obtained three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges for a total of 199 criminal counts in cinching the case that Russia interfered in the election in order to elect Trump and that Trump's campaign willingly helped. Some 28 of the indictments are against individual Russian and Russian business entities.
Trump defense lawyer Jay Sekulow toed a familiar line. As had the White House after the indictments of Manafort, Gates, Flynn and Michael Cohen, Sekulow pointed out that the Stone indictment doesn't allege collusion with Russia.
Stone's lawyer, Grant Smith, dismissed the charges, calling them "ridiculous," and said, "this is all about a minor charge about lying to Congress about something that was apparently found later."
Caputo asserted that the special counsel was targeting Stone on other charges because his prosecutors have been unable to prove coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign.
In fact, that connection has been made repeatedly.
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