Five takeaways from Roger Stone’s indictment

Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJudge sets Roger Stone trial for early November Top Mueller deputy leaving office in sign Russia probe may be winding down Schiff says Intelligence panel pursuing evidence of Cohen's WikiLeaks claims MORE, a longtime associate of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report MORE who served briefly as an informal adviser on his 2016 campaign, was indicted this week in connection with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia investigation.

Prosecutors allege Stone lied to Congress about his interactions regarding WikiLeaks, the organization that released hacked emails from high-level Democrats that U.S. intelligence officials later tied to a broader plot by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. Stone is also accused of obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian interference.

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Stone, who said he plans to fight the charges, is the latest Trump associate to be ensnared in Mueller’s probe, which the president views as a partisan “witch hunt” against him.

Here are five takeaways from the Stone indictment.

Signs of stronger Trump campaign ties to WikiLeaks

The indictment offers the most details to date regarding potential ties between Trump’s campaign and WikiLeaks, particularly regarding whether the group had political dirt on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP lawmaker defends Chelsea Clinton after confrontation over New Zealand attacks Klobuchar: Race, gender should not be litmus tests for 2020 Dem nominee Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE’s campaign.

The court document alleges that after WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about future releases from the group, including any with damaging information on the Clinton campaign.

The indictment also appears to make reference to Stephen Bannon, a former Trump campaign and White House official who discussed WikiLeaks with Stone before the group published emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, according to documents previously obtained by The New York Times.

It’s unclear how seriously some in the campaign took Stone’s claims that he had inside knowledge about WikiLeaks; Bannon appears dismissive of him in the previously published emails. A person close to Bannon told The Hill that the former White House chief strategist generally doesn’t take Stone seriously.

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Even so, contact with Stone from higher levels of the campaign points toward interest in any damaging info on Clinton that WikiLeaks had in its possession.

Prosecutors unsealed hacking charges against Russian intelligence officers with the GRU for allegedly stealing the emails, which were then released by WikiLeaks. Mueller has been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, while lawmakers in Congress launched parallel probes.

Both the White House and Stone have pushed back against any suggestion that this week’s indictment points to collusion.

A court battle is brewing

Stone said Friday that he plans to fight the charges, arguing he had been falsely accused and characterizing the investigation as “politically motivated.”

The developments set the stage for what promises to be a lively court battle between the longtime Trump ally and prosecutors from the special counsel’s office. After an initial appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Stone will be arraigned in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Mueller will likely try to persuade Stone to cooperate with the investigation, which could lead to a reduced punishment if he strikes a plea deal. The special counsel has successfully turned other charged individuals into cooperators, namely former campaign aides Richard Gates and Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortBharara: 'Doesn't seem' Mueller's investigation 'ending any time soon' Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump condemns 'horrible' New Zealand mosque shootings MORE.

“What Mueller is doing is issuing indictments that are plain on their face, easily provable, with the intent at turning people, flipping people as cooperators,” said Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a partner at Dickinson Wright LLP.

Stone could prove crucial to answering one of the probe’s key questions: Did the Trump campaign coordinate with Russia in the release of the hacked emails?

After Friday’s court appearance Stone said he would not testify against Trump because he would not “bear false witness against the president.” He declined to answer other questions about potential cooperation.

Legal analysts said it is possible that Mueller has evidence implicating Stone in some kind of conspiracy related to the email releases, but withheld them from the indictment so as not to tip off other potential defendants. Mueller is not precluded from bringing additional charges against Stone going forward if he has evidence of other crimes.

FBI arrest indicates deep distrust of Stone

Stone was arrested by FBI agents and local authorities during a pre-dawn raid at his house in Florida, a significant departure from how Mueller has handled others ensnared in the Russia probe.

While previous defendants have been allowed to voluntarily turn themselves in, authorities took Stone into custody and raided his home after announcing outside his front door that they have a warrant, according to CNN, which captured the arrest on video.

Waxman said those kinds of arrests are because investigators believe the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community, or because they are worried about the individual destroying evidence.

In a motion filed Thursday, prosecutors requested that the indictment remain sealed so as not to "increase the risk of the defendant fleeing and destroying (or tampering with) evidence."

Waxman also said prosecutors could be looking to send a message to Stone and others who could be charged.

“If he ever had any evidence in his house, you’d think that he would have already gotten rid of it,” Waxman said, noting Stone acknowledged months ago he could be indicted. “It could have been about sending a message to tell him and any people in the future, ‘We’re not going to kid glove anyone here.’ ”

Developments embolden Democrats

Democrats seized on the news of Stone’s arrest, saying it is a further sign of nefarious activity by the Trump campaign.

“It is clear from this indictment that those contacts [between Stone and WikiLeaks] happened at least with the full knowledge of, and appear to have been encouraged by, the highest levels of the Trump campaign,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLive video of New Zealand shooting puts tech on defensive The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP Senate Dem warns against Manafort pardon after sentencing MORE (D-Va.) said in a statement.

Other key lawmakers pointed to Trump publicly calling on Russia to find Clinton’s deleted emails during the 2016 campaign.

“At the very time that then-candidate Trump was publicly encouraging Russia's help in acquiring Clinton-related emails, his campaign was privately receiving information about the planned release of stolen Clinton emails,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP The real reason Nancy Pelosi has backed away from impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Accusations that Stone lied to the House Intelligence panel further angered Democrats — as well as some Republicans — who warned that false testimony won’t be tolerated. Stone’s indictment marks the first charges against a witness in Mueller’s investigation since Democrats took control of the House on Jan. 3.

Some House Democrats may relish going after Stone following his legal woes with Mueller settle. He has publicly taunted Democratic lawmakers on social media, saying Schiff should be indicted for lying to Congress.

Indictment is latest headache for White House

The developments represent the latest headache for the White House in the 20 months of Mueller’s probe.

“It potentially implicates the highest level of the Trump campaign,” said Waxman.

Trump reacted Friday by claiming Stone was mistreated, again labeling the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and denying any collusion.

Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement Friday that the indictment “does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else” and focuses on alleged false statements to the House Intelligence Committee.

However, the charges raise fresh questions about the Trump campaign’s potential knowledge of and interest in WikiLeaks’s releases.

Stone briefly worked on the Trump campaign but stayed in contact with campaign aides leading up to the election. The indictment alleges he “was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1,” an apparent reference to WikiLeaks.

The indictment comes just two weeks after a bungled court filing by Manafort’s attorneys revealed that Mueller accused Manafort of sharing polling data related to the 2016 campaign with an associate with suspected ties to Russia’s GRU.