Roger Stone's indictment could be an 'ominous' sign for Trump

Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone walks out of the federal courthouse following a hearing, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Stone was arrested Friday in the special counsel's Russia investigation and was charged with lying to Congress and obstructing the probe. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Roger Stone, a former Donald Trump presidential campaign adviser and self-described "dirty trickster," appeared in federal court Friday afternoon flashing a double "V"-sign to the cameras, in imitation of his political icon Richard Nixon.

Stone, who was arrested on multiple counts of lying to Congress and witness intimidation, proclaimed he was innocent of the charges brought against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and insisted he was the target of a politically motivated investigation.

Stone spoke to reporters after being released on $250,000 bail. He was arrested earlier that morning in a dramatic scene. More than two dozen federal agents showed up at his Florida home at approximately 6 a.m. to take him into custody. Mueller's team brought the charges against Stone in relation to his repeated attempts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign to obtain politically damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"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," Stone told reporters on the steps of the Broward County federal courthouse. "I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court," he continued. "I believe this is a politically motivated investigation."

Amid cheers from his supporters and protesters loudly chanting "Lock him up!" Stone commented, "As I have always said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Stone is scheduled to be arraigned in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Mueller's indictment does not allege any crimes committed by Stone around the 2016 election, only attempts to mislead and obstruct investigators and cover up past statements. Stone is now the sixth person tied to President Donald Trump or his 2016 presidential campaign to be charged in the Mueller investigation. Similarly, none of the other Trump associates have been charged with "collusion" or conspiracy to coordinate election interference with Russia.

Though Stone stopped working for the Trump campaign in an official capacity in August 2015, he continued to provide political information to members of the campaign and regularly spoke with then-candidate Donald Trump. In his statement outside the courthouse Friday, Stone described himself as "one of his [Trump's] oldest friends."]

According to Brookings Institution director of governance studies Darrell West, Stone's arrest is "ominous" for the Trump administration.

In the 23-page indictment, the special counsel details how "senior Trump Campaign officials" reached out to Stone to request information about WikiLeaks plans to release damaging emails in the summer of 2016.

Stone offered unnamed Trump campaign associates information about WikiLeaks intent to release a batch of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails on Oct. 7, 2016, the indictment reported. When the emails were released on that date, Stone took credit for the accurate prediction. An unnamed associate of a high-ranking Trump campaign official sent Stone a text message after the emails were published that read, "well done."

The information outlined in the indictment "gets to the heart of the collusion question [and] how much coordination there was between WikiLeaks and Trump campaign officials," West noted. "Roger Stone seems to be a very crucial person in understanding that link."

The White House firmly denied any connection between Stone's arrest and the President of the United States. In an interview with CNN, Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted, "This has nothing to do with the president and certainly nothing to do with the White House." She continued that "there was no collusion, there was no wrongdoing by the president."

Unlike other Trump associates, like the president's former attorney Michael Cohen, Stone has repeatedly pledged loyalty to President Trump. On Friday, Stone affirmed that "there is no circumstance whatsoever" under which he would testify against the president or "make up lies" about the president in exchange for leniency.

"I have made it clear, I will not testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness against him," Stone said.

President Trump reacted to his former associate's arrest on Twitter. "Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION!" the president tweeted. "Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?"

CNN was on the scene before 6 a.m. to get exclusive footage of Stone's arrest. The network, their exclusive coverage of the raid was "the product of good instincts" and developments related to Stone's associates who are also under investigation by the special counsel.

Though Roger Stone publicly bragged about his "back-channel communications" with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the story began to change after U.S. intelligence agencies implicated WikiLeaks in Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee's email server and theft of thousands of emails. The story changed even more dramatically during his September 2017 testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

According to the 23-page indictment, Stone lied repeatedly to congressional investigators and denied any attempt to contact WikiLeaks through an intermediary. Stone also allegedly threatened a witness, believed to be comedian and radio host Randy Credico, and attempted to persuade him to give false testimony to Congress.

The indictment documents dozens of instances in which Stone communicated via email, text or other means with two individuals in an attempt to contact WikiLeaks and Assange to obtain damaging information about the Clinton campaign.

One of those individuals was Randy Credico, who Stone identified as an "intermediary," "go-between" and "mutual friend" of Assange. The other was the best-selling author and conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi. Evidence obtained by the special counsel suggested that Corsi and Credico may have had improper contact with WikiLeaks and prior knowledge of the organization's plans to release the stolen DNC emails.

As a radio host, Credico had contact with Assange and even booked him for a show in August 2016. Stone reached out to Credico on multiple occasions asking him to pass messages and requests to the WikiLeaks founder. For example, in September 2016, Stone texted Credico specifically requesting he contact Assange about "any State or HRC e-mail" from Aug. 10 through Aug. 30, 2011. Credico confirmed via email that he had passed Stone's request to Assange through a WikiLeaks attorney.

After learning about Stone's communication with Credico, House investigators subpoenaed the radio show host to appear before the HPSCI in December 2017. Stone sent multiple text messages to Credico encouraging him "stonewall" "plead the fifth" and otherwise avoid contradicting Stone's testimony that he was not in contact with Credico about WikiLeaks.

Credico asked Stone to revise his testimony, which he refused to do. When Credico could no longer defend Stone's story, he lashed out. "You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends," Stone wrote in an email. He went on to threaten Credico's dog and told him, "Prepare to die [expletive].”

The other individual alleged to be a go-between for Stone and Assange was Jerome Corsi, who publicly forecast that WikiLeaks would release Podesta's emails before the 2016 election. In a statement from his attorney, Friday, Corsi confirmed that references to Corsi in the Mueller document (as "Person 1") were "accurate" and "consistent" with testimony Corsi provided to the special counsel.

Over the past year, Corsi has spent roughly 40 hours being interviewed by special counsel prosecutors and called before a federal grand jury. In a charging document, Mueller alleged that Corsi lied about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks on Stone's behalf and may have conspired to aid Stone in lying to Congress. Mueller offered Corsi a plea agreement in exchange for testimony against Stone.

Last month in an exclusive interview with Howard Stirk Holdings' Armstrong Williams, Corsi explained why he rejected Mueller's deal. "They wanted me to plead to a crime I didn't commit," he said. Corsi claimed he was targeted by the special counsel's office because they believed he was the "lynchpin" that would connect Roger Stone and Donald Trump to WikiLeaks and Russia.

Corsi maintains that his public and private predictions about WikiLeaks releasing Podesta's emails were based on his own research, not a source tied to WikiLeaks. "They were sure I had to have a source and I didn't have a source," he said.

Corsi currently has a $350 million lawsuit against Robert Mueller and the Justice Department for alleged prosecutorial misconduct and illegal surveillance.

More recently, Corsi's stepson Andrew Stettner has become a subject of interest in the Mueller investigation as well. According to CNN, they learned about the possible raid on Stone's Florida home when Stettner's legal team was negotiating a date for him to testify before a grand jury. Stettner was reportedly told to pick any day but Friday, which signaled to reporters that Mueller's team was likely going to be busy.

The text messages and emails obtained by the special counsel as well as Stone's public statements suggest the political insider successfully established "back-channel communication" with WikiLeaks and Assange. It is not a crime to be in contact with WikiLeaks or Assange. It does raise questions if there was any coordination between Stone, Assange and the Trump campaign.

Assange's U.S. attorney, Barry Pollack issued a statement Friday distancing his client from Stone and clarifying that the Office of the Special Counsel has "never spoken." Pollack said, "The charges against Mr. Stone do not allege that Mr. Stone lied about his [lack of] contacts with Julian Assange, but rather about his contacts with others and about documents reflecting those communications."

According to the U.S. intelligence community, Russia used WikiLeaks as a "cutout" to disseminate the stolen DNC emails. Trump's former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mike Pompeo described WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service." Both Russia and WikiLeaks have denied working together.

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