WASHINGTON — A federal prosecutor on Wednesday charged that Roger J. Stone Jr. lied repeatedly to a congressional committee about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election because “the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”
In his opening statement in Mr. Stone’s trial in the federal courthouse in Washington, the prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, promised jurors that reams of documentary evidence, buttressed by testimony of witnesses including the former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, would prove Mr. Stone’s guilt.
In a riveting outline of the government’s case, Mr. Zelinsky painted a portrait of Mr. Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster,” trying to aid Mr. Trump’s campaign through underhanded dealings and subterfuge and later concealing his work. The prosecution is one of the few cases still outstanding from the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Mr. Zelinsky said that Mr. Stone repeatedly threatened a fragile witness struggling with alcoholism in an attempt to cover up his own efforts to determine whether WikiLeaks had information that would damage Mr. Trump’s election opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Stone also concealed hundreds of text messages and email exchanges that would have exposed his efforts to contact the founder of WikiLeaks and to relay information to senior Trump officials.
In August 2016, Mr. Stone wrote to Paul Manafort, then the chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign, that he had an idea “to save” Mr. Trump, but “it ain’t pretty.” Mr. Zelinsky also said that in the summer of 2016, as Mr. Stone was trying to contact WikiLeaks, he had two phone calls with Mr. Trump himself, although he said the government does not know what they discussed.
Mr. Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser who has been friends with the president for 40 years, is charged with seven felonies, including obstructing justice, false statements and tampering with a witness. The case revolves mainly around his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017, when it was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
That same committee is now leading the impeachment inquiry into whether Mr. Trump pressured the president of Ukraine this year to begin investigations that would help him politically as his re-election campaign gained momentum.
Congressional investigators were focused on WikiLeaks because it was the repository for thousands of emails and other documents that Russian operatives stole from Democratic computer networks in a covert effort to increase Mr. Trump’s chances of victory.
Prosecutors say that Mr. Stone, 67, falsely testified that he possessed no emails or text messages about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he never asked an intermediary to seek information from or pass messages to Mr. Assange. He also lied about discussing his interactions with that intermediary with anyone tied to the Trump campaign, prosecutors said. They also said that he tried to dissuade a witness, Randy Credico, from testifying before the House committee, urging him to stonewall investigators.
Mr. Stone boasted repeatedly in 2016 that he was in touch with WikiLeaks and had inside information about its plans to release emails that would undermine Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Later, when the special counsel and congressional committees began investigating Russian interference in the election, he said his claims were mere puffery.
How much if anything Mr. Stone knew about what WikiLeaks had in store for the Clinton campaign has been a mystery since Aug. 21, 2016, when Mr. Stone wrote on Twitter, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
That prediction seemed remarkably prescient because about six weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing 50,000 emails that Russian agents had stolen from the computer of John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Mr. Stone told the House committee that his Twitter message was based on research from a friend about the business dealings of Mr. Podesta and his brother in Ukraine. The friend, Jerome Corsi, initially backed up Mr. Stone’s account. But in interviews with investigators, he said that was merely a “cover story” that he and Mr. Stone devised.
Mr. Zelinsky, the prosecutor, told a predominantly female jury on Wednesday that Mr. Corsi was one of two intermediaries whom Mr. Stone deployed in his efforts to get in touch with Mr. Assange. The other was Mr. Credico, a New York radio host, whom prosecutors said Mr. Stone pressured to either lie or stonewall the House committee.
Mr. Stone also told Mr. Credico not to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation, said Mr. Zelinsky, who worked on the inquiry. In a January 2018 text message, Mr. Stone described the special counsel’s investigation to Mr. Credico as a “waste of your time.”
Mr. Zelinsky said Mr. Credico would testify but suggested that he might seem unreliable. “If you were looking for someone to pin something on, Randy Credico is a pretty good person to pick,” he said. But he said that to an “amazing” degree, most of the evidence of the case was contained in documents.
The defense was expected to make its opening statement on Wednesday afternoon. The charges against Mr. Stone carry a maximum penalty of 20 years.
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