WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump’s confidant Roger Stone was charged with lying about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election bid, with prosecutors alleging that senior Trump campaign officials sought to leverage the publication of the stolen material into a White House victory.
The self-proclaimed dirty trickster, arrested by the FBI in a raid before dawn Friday at his Florida home, blasted the prosecution as politically motivated. In a circus-like atmosphere outside the courthouse, as supporters cheered him on and spectators shouted “Lock Him Up,” Stone proclaimed his innocence and predicted his vindication.
“As I have said previously, 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 said.
The seven-count indictment, the first criminal case in months in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, provides the most detail to date about how Trump campaign associates in the summer of 2016 actively sought the disclosure of emails the U.S. says were hacked by Russia and then provided to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. It alleges that an unidentified senior Trump campaign official was “directed” to keep in contact with Stone about when stolen emails relating to Clinton might be disclosed.
Stone is the sixth Trump aide or adviser charged by Mueller and the 34th person overall. The nearly two-year-old probe has exposed multiple contacts between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign and transition period and revealed efforts by several to conceal those communications.
The 24-page indictment brings the investigation even further into the president’s circle of advisers and suggests that Trump campaign officials were eager to exploit the stolen messages for political gain. But prosecutors did not accuse Trump of wrongdoing or charge Stone with conspiring with WikiLeaks or with the Russian intelligence officers Mueller says hacked the emails.
They also did not reveal whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia or had advance knowledge of the hacking.
Instead the prosecution mirrors other Mueller cases in alleging cover-ups and deception, accusing Stone of lying to lawmakers about WikiLeaks, tampering with witnesses and obstructing a House intelligence committee probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the election.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the indictment “does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else.” Trump himself on Friday called the investigation the “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country!”
CNN aired video of the raid at Stone’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, showing agents in body armor using large weapons and night-vision equipment, running up to the home and banging on the door.
“FBI open the door!” one shouts. “FBI, warrant!” Stone could then be seen in the doorway in his sleepwear before he was led away.
Though not uncommon for the FBI to make early-morning arrests of targets under indictment, it’s the first time Mueller has used that tactic. In court papers, prosecutors wrote they had concerns that if Stone was tipped off to the indictment, it would increase the risk he would flee or destroy evidence.
Hours after his arrest, Stone appeared in court in a blue polo shirt and jeans. In releasing him on $250,000 bond, a magistrate judge restricted Stone’s travel to South Florida, Washington and New York City and ordered him to avoid contact with witnesses.
“This morning, at the crack of dawn, 29 FBI agents arrived at my home with 17 vehicles, with their lights flashing, when they could simply have contacted my attorneys and I would have been more than willing to surrender voluntarily,” Stone said outside court.
Known for his political antics, conspiracy theories and hard-ball tactics, Stone has reveled in being a Washington wheeler-dealer dating back to the Nixon administration. On Friday, he mimicked Nixon’s famous “V” gesture as he left the courthouse.
Stone, a longtime friend of the president’s, briefly served on Trump’s campaign, but was pushed out amid infighting with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Though sidelined, he continued to communicate with Trump and stayed plugged into his circle of advisers.
The indictment says Stone repeatedly discussed WikiLeaks in 2016 with campaign associates and lays out in detail Stone’s conversations about emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and posted in the weeks before Trump beat Clinton.
The document says that by June and July 2016, Stone had told senior Trump campaign officials that he had information indicating that WikiLeaks had obtained damaging documents on Clinton.
After WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, released hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, the indictment says, a senior Trump campaign official “was directed” to contact Stone about additional releases and “what other damaging information” WikiLeaks had “regarding the Clinton campaign.” The indictment does not name the official or say who directed the outreach to Stone.
Though no officials are identified by name, one Trump campaign aide cited in the case is Steve Bannon, who later became Trump’s chief White House strategist. Bannon, referred to as a “high-ranking Trump Campaign official,” exchanged emails with Stone in October 2016 about WikiLeaks’ plans. The indictment quotes from those emails, which had previously been made public by news outlets.
While the indictment provides some new insight into the Trump campaign, it deals largely with what prosecutors say were Stone’s false statements about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host Randy Credico and with conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who rejected a plea offer from Mueller last year.
The indictment says Stone carried out a “prolonged effort” to keep Credico from contradicting his testimony before the House intelligence committee. During that effort, prosecutors note that Stone repeatedly told Credico to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli,’ ” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II” who lies before Congress.
Stone is accused of threatening Credico, including through messages in which he called him “rat” and “stoolie.” Stone also threatened to “take that dog away from you,” a reference to Credico’s dog, Bianca.
“I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die (expletive),” Stone also wrote to Credico.
Stone has said for months he was prepared to be charged, while maintaining he had no inside information about the contents of the emails obtained by WikiLeaks or the timing of their release.
Still, he has long attracted scrutiny because of his WikiLeaks-related comments, especially a 2016 tweet — “It will soon (be) Podesta’s time in the barrel” — that appeared to presage knowledge that Podesta’s emails would soon be released.
In a tweet Friday, Podesta turned Stone’s words against him, writing that it was now “Roger’s time in the barrel.”