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Signs grow that Mueller is zeroing in on Roger Stone

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE appears to be narrowing his focus on Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneMueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe Mueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel MORE in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, prompting widespread speculation that the longtime adviser to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE is likely a target in the probe.

Stone has long been subject to public scrutiny as a result of his connections to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, the hacking persona that Mueller’s team now alleges was a front for Russian intelligence officers.

The focus on Stone has seemed to intensify in recent weeks as Mueller has sought testimony from a growing number of individuals linked to him.

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Most telling, perhaps, is the fact that Roger Stone himself has not yet been called to interview with Mueller or testify before the grand jury.

Legal analysts see this as a sign that Stone is a subject, if not a target, of the investigation into whether there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

“Mueller is obviously closing in on Stone,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C.

On Friday afternoon, Kristin Davis, the former leader of an upscale prostitution ring who is better known as the “Manhattan Madam,” testified before the grand jury in Mueller’s probe, her spokeswoman, Lainie Speiser, confirmed. Davis has a longstanding relationship with Stone going back a decade, and she could offer valuable information on his personal and professional contacts.

Separately, Mueller has subpoenaed Randy Credico, a political satirist and radio host, to appear before the grand jury on Sept. 7. Stone claims that Credico was the intermediary who helped him communicate with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential race.

Martin Stoler, a lawyer for Credico, said that he expects Mueller’s team to question his client on his connections to Stone and Assange.

“No clear indications of what they want to talk about, but I would be surprised if it was anything except his relations with Stone and Assange,” Stoler told The Hill.

Credico and Davis are two of a handful of Stone's associates who have been contacted in the Russia investigation.

Former Stone aide Andrew Miller, whom a federal judge held in contempt of the court last week for refusing to testify before the grand jury, is a third example. However, the special counsel has yet to interview or subpoena Stone himself, according to his lawyers.

“While Mr. Mueller’s office has continued to interview and subpoena people very close to Mr. Stone, Mr. Stone has not been asked to participate with the Office of the Special Counsel, nor has Mr. Stone engaged with the Office of the Special Counsel,” Grant Smith, an attorney for Stone, said Monday.

In May, Stone said he was “prepared” to be indicted in Mueller's investigation “should that be the case.” At the same time, he said Mueller's probe has turned up no evidence of collusion. 

“It is not inconceivable now that Mr. Mueller and his team may seek to conjure up some extraneous crime pertaining to my business, or maybe not even pertaining to the 2016 election,” Stone said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I would chalk this up to an effort to silence me.” 

Stone also has not ruled out cooperating with the investigation.

Legal experts say Mueller is likely interviewing Stone’s associates to understand his connections to Assange and others and to potentially obtain evidence that could be used in a case against Stone, if there is one to build.

“The typical practice, whether in administrative or criminal investigation, is to collect as much evidence, whether documentary or witness interviews, prior to going to the target themselves,” said Mark Zaid, a D.C.-based attorney who specializes in national security law. “You get all your ducks in order before you talk to the individual.”

Mueller’s movements, Zaid said, signal that the special counsel is getting closer to interviewing Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump who briefly worked on the president’s campaign in its infancy.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Mueller’s focus on Stone, who has known Trump for decades, is not particularly surprising.

Stone has attracted public attention for a series of tweets he posted during the heat of the 2016 campaign that appeared to forecast email releases from WikiLeaks before they occurred. Stone has denied having knowledge of the hacked emails prior to their release.

“Trust me, it will soon [be] the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” Stone tweeted on Aug. 21, 2016.

The U.S. intelligence community says that Russian intelligence officials hacked emails of Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffers and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and passed them to WikiLeaks as part of a broader plot to interfere in the election.

Stone claimed publicly in 2016 that he communicated with Assange, but later said it was through a third party — namely Credico. Both Credico and Stoler, his lawyer, declined to comment Monday on Stone’s allegation that Credico served as his communications backchannel with Assange. Credico indicated in an email he was anxious about the interview and was “laying low.”

Mueller is likely examining the nature of Stone’s contacts with Assange and whether he had any knowledge of the hacked emails before they were released.

Mueller is said to be investigating an email Stone sent to former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg in August 2016 in which he claimed to have had dinner with Assange the previous night, The Wall Street Journal reported in April. Stone has said the claim was a joke and denied meeting Assange in person.

Stone has said that he communicated with Guccifer 2.0 over direct messages on Twitter during the campaign.

Last month, Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking of the DNC and systems involved in the U.S. electoral process. The indictment alleges that an unnamed individual “who was in regular contact with senior members” of Trump’s presidential campaign communicated with Russian intelligence officers — posing as Guccifer 2.0 — during August 2016 about the release of stolen documents.

Stone told CNN that he is likely the individual referenced in the indictment, but described the interactions as “benign” and “innocuous.”

Stone has also admitted to having contact with a Russian national named Henry Greenberg offering incriminating information on Clinton in May 2016, though he claims to have rejected the offer. Stone and Michael Caputo, another Trump associate, both say they forgot to disclose the meeting during interviews with congressional investigators.

Should Stone be implicated in Mueller’s probe, his name would be added to a growing list of Trump-linked individuals ensnared in the Russia investigation.

Mueller has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFormer FBI agent sentenced to 4 years in jail for leaking to reporter The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan Mueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe MORE on a series of bank fraud and other charges unrelated to his work on the campaign. Mueller has also secured guilty pleas from former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates, former campaign foreign policy adviser George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosMueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe Calif. man ensnared in Mueller probe sentenced to 6 months in prison The Mueller investigation: Where it stands at the midterms MORE and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

It is unclear what Mueller’s next public move will be or when it will occur. Many speculate that the special counsel will refrain from making major overt disclosures in the Russia investigation within two months from the midterm elections on Nov. 6, given longstanding Justice Department practice of avoiding such actions close to an Election Day.