WASHINGTON – Focus
The most important line in an indictment of Trump associate Roger Stone by special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday may be the one stating that a senior official in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign “was directed” to contact Stone to get information from the organization publishing stolen Democratic National Committee emails.
Trump isn’t addressed directly in the 24-page indictment of his longtime political ally, but the detailed account of the interaction of his campaign and allies with WikiLeaks raises new questions about whether Trump or his family played a direct role in trying to communicate with the secretive foreign group, which has been linked to Russia.
The key passage in the indictment relates to a set of DNC emails released on July 22, 2016. Prosecutors wrote that “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information” might be released by WikiLeaks.
The senior campaign official is likely either Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, or his deputy, Rick Gates, because Manafort was the campaign figure closest to Stone at that time, according to people familiar with the campaign. Manafort and Gates were charged with tax crimes and conspiracy against the U.S. in 2017.
Notably, the indictment doesn’t refer with any specificity to who issued the original directive to pursue the emails, which Mueller has said were purloined by Russian state hackers.
In July 2016, there was still only a small coterie of advisers in the Trump campaign, including several members of his immediate family: Donald Trump Jr. son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Mueller may well have more evidence about the origin of that order. Gates has been a cooperating witness for nearly a year. Manafort also has met with Mueller’s team after cutting a plea deal.
Mueller’s indictment also describes how a “high-ranking Trump campaign official” was in touch with Stone in October 2016 ahead of the release of additional damaging information about Clinton’s campaign by WikiLeaks. An associate of that official texted Stone after the release to say, “Well done.” The high-ranking official was Stephen Bannon, who later served as Trump’s top strategist, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Some people around Trump said the indictment didn’t get close to Trump or detail new examples of collusion with Russia.
But other Trump aides and advisers said Stone’s arrest revived fears in the White House about what other evidence Mueller may have gathered.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said he plans to delve more deeply into the findings as well. “Our committee 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,” the California Democrat said in a written statement.
Stone was charged by Mueller on seven counts, including several for lying to Congress. Last December, Mueller asked the House Intelligence Committee to hand over the transcript of Stone’s closed-door September 2017 interview, which the panel agreed to do.
One looming concern for Trump is plans by the House Intelligence Committee to release the transcripts of closed-door questioning of dozens of witnesses in its Russia-investigation probe, including its 2017 interview of Trump Jr. That could open up Trump Jr.’s testimony to Mueller’s scrutiny.
“The first order of business for the committee will be to release all remaining transcripts to the special counsel’s office, and we will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Schiff said.
Trump Jr. also met with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which did release a transcript of the closed-door interview.
Asked whether he was aware of any communication between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, he described messages he sent and received on Twitter: “I got a few direct messages from them asking me, I believe, if I would leak his tax return. I think the only time I responded to them was, ‘Hey, when I am I going to receive the next leak.'”
Trump Jr. also said he was unaware of anybody on the campaign communicating with WikiLeaks.
Trump’s own remarks from July 2016 show that he was interested in the contents of the hacked emails. Five days after WikiLeaks released 20,000 DNC emails showing party officials bashing Clinton opponent Bernie Sanders, Trump addressed a news conference.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said, referring to a separate set of emails missing from her personal server.
Around that date, Russians involved in the country’s election interference campaign sent around phishing emails to addresses associated with the Clinton campaign, according to an indictment of Russian agents issued by Mueller over the summer. They subsequently stole Democratic emails, which they gave to WikiLeaks, which posted them online.
The conspirators “discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organization 1 to heighten their impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the indictment said, referring to WikiLeaks and the hacker known at Guccifer 2.0. The indictment said that in total some 50,000 documents were released.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday that Stone’s alleged crimes have “nothing to do with the president.”
Stone, who had a decades-long relationship with Trump and was instrumental in transforming him into a presidential candidate, left the campaign in August 2015 after a dispute over strategy. But Stone stayed in Trump’s outer circle and remained in contact with Manafort, who he had spent decades working with at their firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly.
“I will plead not guilty to these charges,” Stone said outside the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I will defeat them in court. I believe this is a politically motivated investigation.”