According to the indictment from Robert Mueller’s office, Roger Stone was an active participant in attempts by WikiLeaks to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election.Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux
On Friday morning, Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime political adviser and ally, who has been a fixture in Republican politics since the Nixon Administration, was arrested by the F.B.I. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, issued a seven-count indictment, which charges Stone with obstruction of an official proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering. It also makes the case that Stone acted as a conduit of information between the Trump campaign and Julian Assange as Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, released e-mails that the Russian government had stolen from the Democratic Party and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an effort to help Trump win the Presidential election.
The charges stem not from the original acts themselves but from Stone’s alleged lies about them. In September, 2017, Stone testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had “no e-mails, no texts, no documents whatsoever” or any other materials that discussed hacked documents or conversations about Assange. As in the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager (and Stone’s former business partner), and that of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, we see that it is not wise to lie when asked, under oath, if you have any specific e-mails and texts. Once again, the government had all the incriminating receipts.
Perhaps the most surprising detail of the indictment is that Stone, a famous braggart, often downplayed the significance of his role as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Assange. He was not, as he has previously said, simply guessing and making vague predictions about the actions WikiLeaks was likely to take; he was an active participant in its attempts to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election. In texts sent on or about October 2, 2016, Stone expressed confusion that WikiLeaks had not released e-mails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as he had expected. That same day, he sent an e-mail to a friend, who is identified in the indictment as Person 2 and appears to be the radio host Randy Credico, with the subject line “WTF?,” in which he asked why Assange had cancelled a press conference.
The first week of October, 2016, was a crucial one for the Trump campaign and for the country. Trump was trailing Clinton by about four points in the polls, and the conventional wisdom was that he had no chance of winning the Presidency. In the e-mails quoted in the indictment, Stone began that week by complaining that a high-ranking official on Trump’s campaign wouldn’t return his calls. By October 4th, the official—who has been identified by CNBC and in previous reporting by the Times as Steve Bannon, who was the head of Trump’s campaign at the time—had contacted Stone directly, asking when Assange planned his next e-mail release. Stone reassured him that Assange would release “a load every week going forward.” On October 7th—shortly after the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women—Assange began releasing e-mails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. An unnamed associate of Bannon wrote, in a text to Stone, “well done.”
Nearly a year later, in September, 2017, Stone not only lied to the House Intelligence Committee about these communications but also sent messages to others who had been asked to testify before the committee, encouraging them to lie as well. To Person 2, he wrote, “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ . . . Richard Nixon.” In other exchanges, according to the indictment, Stone “told Person 2 that Person 2 should do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI in order to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony,” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II,” who had planned to testify against the Corleone family but was pressured to deny any recollection of key events.
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In 2008, Stone, a proudly self-described “dirty trickster,” described his political “rules” to Jeffrey Toobin, one of which was “Lay low, play dumb, keep moving.” For decades, Stone has alternately played a clownish buffoon and serious political insider. It’s a surprisingly effective strategy, forcing the public to wonder if a man who says so many wild things and behaves so flamboyantly can also be a potent force, shifting the world according to his will. A frequent guest on InfoWars and other fringe conspiracy-media outlets, Stone has presented himself as somewhat desperately trying to foster communication between Trump and Assange. But the e-mails in the indictment show that Stone may have played a crucial role in the election, intervening with both the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks to influence the timing of key events.
From Stone’s indictment and other documents released by the special counsel’s office, including Manafort’s indictment and Cohen’s sentencing memo, we now see that, from at least November, 2015, through October, 2016, key figures in the Trump campaign and on the business side of the Trump Organization were in regular contact with a variety of actors close to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The figures on Trump’s side were often falling in or out of his favor. Stone was close to Trump until August, 2015, and then was forced to fight for relevance. Trump’s business associates Felix Sater and Michael Cohen were intensely engaged in developing a Trump Tower Moscow project until, by June, 2016, they, too, seemed to step away. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign from June to August, 2016, while also communicating with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, before he, too, was tossed from Trump’s inner circle.
Were these contacts largely disorganized, or could they have been coördinated by someone within Trump’s orbit? The most significant person in the Stone indictment appears in a single line, in the passive voice, and seems to have had more authority than almost anyone on the Trump campaign. According to the indictment, “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.” Who did this directing? Why did Mueller avoid naming the person? Could it possibly have been Trump? Or—as one must still allow—was Trump, somehow, an innocent dupe surrounded by scheming scoundrels?