Trump White House issues fresh blizzard of spin in the wake of Stone arrest
On Friday, President Donald Trump and his allies were forced to spend part of their day making a furtive effort to spin the news that broke in the early morning hours: Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and infamous political dirty trickster, been charged with seven criminal counts in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
FBI officials raided Stone’s New York City apartment and arrested him at his Florida home Friday morning on charges ranging from lying to and obstructing Congress and witness tampering. Among the details included in the indictment unsealed Friday morning was news that a senior Trump campaign official “was directed” to contact Stone about the release of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which were hacked by Russian operatives and disseminated by Wikileaks. (Podesta is a founder of the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news organization housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)
Today’s fresh round of denials and the renewed effort to distance the president from Stone’s legal woes has been consistent with past efforts to do the same. But with mounting evidence coming out of Mueller’s court filings, these efforts to spin the story and explain away the details obtained by the steady drip of legal disclosures are getting harder and harder to believe.
“I have been falsely accused”
Stone was indicted on seven counts, including one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of making false statements, and one count of witness tampering.
The indictment accuses him of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee about his communication with WikiLeaks and his possession of records that showed those interactions. Stone allegedly lied that conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi — who today admitted to being the “Person 1” named in the indictment — had tipped him off about the release of the hacked emails. He also told the committee that comedian Randy Credico had served as his “go-between” with WikiLeaks, and then pressured Credico to back up this false account.
“I have been falsely accused of making false statements during my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee,” said Stone during a press conference after walking out of federal court Friday morning.
“Any error I made in my testimony would be both be immaterial and without intent,” he added.
At this point, it is unclear what kind of evidence the Mueller investigation has on Stone.
Last November, Stone wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Caller, which included an October 2016 communication with then-Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon. In his communication, Stone claimed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange did not release anticipated emails on a particular date due to security concerns but that a “load every week” would be published going forward. However, in this published account, Stone insists that he was only making a prediction based on Assange’s own public announcements.
Talking Points Memo noted today that “Emails released by the New York Times in 2018 between Stone and Trump campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon appear to suggest that Bannon is the unnamed ‘high-ranking’ campaign official” named in Friday morning’s indictment.
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) January 25, 2019
During the 2016 campaign, Stone also claimed to be in close communication with Assange, so much so that he spoke with confidence about the timing of various WikiLeaks disclosures related to the Clinton Foundation. However, he has since walked back these claims, insisting that he got the inside scoop on these disclosures from Credico, instead. Credico has denied playing any role in relaying information between the Stone and WikiLeaks.
Lastly, Stone has admitted to communicating with Guccifer 2.0, the psuedonym of a Russian intelligence officer believed to be responsible for hacking Podesta’s emails. Stone describes those communications via Twitter were “completely innocuous,” according to the Washington Times.
“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 said during the press conference.
Trump himself took to Twitter Friday morning, and repeated his infamous lines that the Mueller investigation is nothing but a “Witch Hunt” and there is absolutely “NO COLLUSION!”
Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2019
Trump legal adviser Rudy Giuliani also issued a statement: “The indictment today is yet again nothing more than another false statement charge. It doesn’t allege collusion. Indeed it charges no underlying wrongdoing by Mr. Stone or anyone else. Seems we are coming to an end.”
It is true that the latest indictments do not prove the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. It is still unclear whether anyone in the campaign, including the unnamed “high-ranking Trump campaign official” believed to be Bannon mentioned in the indictment, were aware that the emails at the center of their exchanges with WikiLeaks and Assange had been stolen by Russian intelligence agents at the time of those communications.
Nevertheless, the unsealed indictment moves possible collusion closer to Trump’s inner circle.
Among the lingering questions, the matter of who directed the “high-ranking” campaign official to contact Stone looms large. There is other evidence that members of Trump’s campaign, may have also inquired about colluding with Russia.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign Chairman Paul Manafort met with four people, including Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, who has ties to the Kremlin, at Trump Tower in June 2016 about receiving potential information on Clinton. When Trump Jr. was contacted by music publicist Rob Goldstone about potential dirt the Russians had on Clinton, Trump Jr. responded via email: “if it’s what you say I love it.”
During a July 2016 campaign event, Trump appeared to call on Russia to find the emails missing from Clinton’s private server. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing… I think you will be probably rewarded mightily by our press.” Mueller filings later showed that Russians attempted to hack into Clinton’s servers on that same day.
The WikiLeaks emails also played a critical role in Trump’s final push to win the 2016 election. As ThinkProgress previously reported, Trump mentioned the emails on at least 164 occasions in the final month of the campaign.
Nothing to do with Trump
Just hours after the news broke, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on CNN, at which time she made a game effort to both distance Trump from the latest indictments as well as deflect attention back at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a pair of top intelligence and law enforcement officials that had warned the Obama administration about Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections.
Sarah Sanders on CNN says the Roger Stone indictment has "nothing to do with the president" which is definitely not a lie at all pic.twitter.com/KSTZS7bhvR
— Melanie Schmitz (@MelsLien) January 25, 2019
“This has nothing to do with the President and certainly nothing to do with the White House. This is something that has to do solely with that individual and not something that affects us here in this building,” Huckabee Sanders told CNN, using language that made a somewhat pained effort to draw a line of separation between the Trump White House and the Trump campaign, without drawing too much attention to the subtle distinction.
When pressed further about Trump’s constant communication with Stone, Huckabee Sanders dismissed Stone as a “consultant” that has worked with “dozens” of Republican presidents, candidates, and members of Congress and that those conversations were unrelated to the charges filed on Friday.
“I think a bigger question is, if this is the standard, will the same standard apply to people like Hillary Clinton, [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper,” asked Sanders, who added, “Will we see these same people, who we know also made false statements, will that same standard apply?”
It strains credulity to to believe that Trump was somehow largely unaware of Stone’s role in his campaign and these activities, many of which he publicly boasted about on social media. Stone was Trump’s top campaign adviser during the early days of the campaign before either being fired from or quitting that role after Trump attacked former Fox News host Megyn Kelly during a televised debate. Stone was also a former high-paid lobbyist for the Trump organization between 1999 and 2000.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), took pains to underscore Stone’s long history with Trump and his intimate involvement with the Trump campaign operations:
Roger Stone and Donald Trump have known each other for nearly forty years. Mr. Stone played a key role in recruiting Paul Manafort to run the Trump campaign, and he publicly claimed on several occasions to remain in regular contact with then-candidate Trump throughout the 2016 presidential race, even after he formally departed the Trump campaign. It appears Stone also lied to Congress and tampered with witnesses in order to obstruct these investigations into the Trump campaign – yet another example of senior Trump officials concealing the truth about their Russia-related contacts during the 2016 election.
“I expect that we will learn more about Mr. Stone’s campaign role, his communications regarding Wikileaks, and who else knew about Stone’s efforts. It remains essential that the Special Counsel be permitted to finish this work without any political interference,” Warner added.
Stone is merely the latest Trump campaign official with Russian ties to be indicted by Mueller. Others include Manafort, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, campaign aide Rick Gates, and national security adviser Michael Flynn.