National Security

Stone heading to DC court in Mueller saga’s latest twist

Roger Stone will appear in Washington, D.C., federal court Tuesday in what is poised to be one of the more dramatic episodes of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 20-month investigation into Russian interference.

Stone, a longtime informal adviser to President Trump, was indicted last week on seven charges, including five counts of lying to Congress about his interactions regarding WikiLeaks, the organization that leaked troves of hacked Democratic emails ahead of the 2016 election that U.S. officials later concluded were stolen by Russian military hackers.

{mosads}Stone is also accused of obstructing an official proceeding and witness tampering.

The self-described “dirty trickster” has pledged to fight the charges in court, describing himself as falsely accused and the Mueller investigation as politically motivated.

Stone is the sixth Trump associate to be charged in connection with Mueller’s sprawling investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Others ensnared include former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Stone attracted scrutiny from the special counsel as a result of public statements he made during the campaign that appeared to forecast WikiLeaks’s releases. He has denied having advance knowledge about the hacked emails.  

His indictment does not allege any conspiracy involving the campaign, WikiLeaks or the Russian government. However, its details have raised new questions about the Trump campaign’s interest in WikiLeaks at a crucial point in the campaign, after the organization released materials stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

The indictment, unsealed shortly after Stone’s arrest early Friday, claims that a senior campaign official was “directed” to contact Stone “about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” Organization 1 is widely believed to be WikiLeaks.

Trump has long denied collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was “not aware of anybody here ever working with WikiLeaks in any capacity” and denied that the charges have anything to do with Trump.

{mosads}“The further we get into the process, the more we see that this has nothing to do with President Trump,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.­

Stone’s arrest unfolded dramatically Friday, with FBI agents staging an early morning raid of his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He made an initial appearance in Florida federal court later that day and was released on $250,000 bond.

In a court motion, Mueller’s prosecutors asked that the indictment remain sealed so as not to “increase the risk of the defendant fleeing and destroying (or tampering with) evidence.” Stone, meanwhile, has accused the special counsel of employing “Gestapo tactics” and attempting to silence him.

“It’s an expensive show of force to try to depict me as public enemy No. 1,” Stone told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

However, Stone has not explicitly ruled out cutting a deal to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, which would afford him the opportunity to reduce his prison sentence.

Legal analysts say Stone, who is 66 years old, faces anywhere between one and five years in prison, depending on whether he is alleged to have threatened physical injury to radio host Randy Credico, whom he allegedly tried to persuade against contradicting his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

Others, such as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have initially fought charges brought against them in connection with Mueller’s investigation before eventually pleading guilty.

Manafort was convicted on bank and tax fraud charges by a jury in Alexandria, Va., last summer. Less than a month later, he agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation to avert a second trial in D.C. on charges stemming from his lobbying work on behalf of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Manafort faced up to a decade in prison for the charges in Virginia alone. Mueller has since accused Manafort of breaching his plea deal by lying to investigators.

Stone, who briefly worked on the Trump campaign but stayed in touch with aides throughout the election, could help Mueller answer a core question of the investigation: Did the campaign coordinate with Russia in the release of the hacked emails?

Stone’s credibility as a witness could be tested, however, as he’s accused of lying to Congress.

“He would obviously be a problematic cooperator because he has a lot of baggage and credibility issues,” said Elie Honig, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“But sometimes problematic cooperators have very valuable insider information,” added Honig, who is now a criminal defense lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler.

The developments will likely be closely watched by the White House. Trump reacted to the indictment by saying Stone had been mistreated and has since sought to distance himself from the political operative, writing on Twitter that Stone “didn’t even work for me anywhere near the Election!”

Some have speculated Trump could look to pardon Stone, who said he would not “bear false witness against the president” by testifying against him and has pushed back on allegations of collusion. Sanders told reporters Monday that she is “not aware of any conversation even regarding [a pardon] or a need for it.”

The charges against Stone punctuated burgeoning speculation Mueller could be wrapping up his probe in the near future. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told reporters Monday that the probe is “close to being completed.” 

The alternative is what is likely to be a dramatic trial that could take months to wrap up. Two of the government prosecutors assigned to Stone’s case come from the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. and not the special counsel’s office, a potential signal Mueller could eventually look to hand it off.

Stone is scheduled to be arraigned at 11 a.m. Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson.

His case has been assigned to District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the Obama appointee who is also overseeing Manafort’s D.C. case.

Lydia Wheeler contributed.

Tags Donald Trump Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Roger Stone

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