Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump, is an inveterate liar and a self-proclaimed dirty trickster. Not even his legal team disputes this.
In fact, as Mr. Stone went on trial this week in federal court in Washington on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering, his lawyers have built a defense in part around their client’s colorful reputation.
Mr. Stone wasn’t being “evil” or purposefully misleading lawmakers when he minimized his efforts to obtain details about emails that Russian operatives stole from the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential campaign, they contend. Rather, his earlier public claims about his connections to WikiLeaks had been him mouthing off and “playing others” in that mischievous way of his.
Federal prosecutors have a much simpler explanation for Mr. Stone’s dissembling.
“Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” the lead prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, said in his opening remarks to jurors on Wednesday.
The truth, according to texts and emails whose existence Mr. Stone had denied, is that he eagerly sought information about the emails from WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that accepted thousands of messages from Russian hackers operating under the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0, and that he was in frequent contact with Mr. Trump and campaign officials during that time.
He bragged to Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, and Steve Bannon, a key strategist, that he had a way to help Mr. Trump win the election, telling Mr. Bannon in an email that “it ain’t pretty.”
One reason the truth might look particularly bad for the president is that when the special counsel investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia asked about Mr. Stone’s contact with WikiLeaks, Mr. Trump replied in his written response, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.”
That may be, and Mr. Stone’s prosecutors have not claimed that the president discussed WikiLeaks with Mr. Stone.
But the evidence that prosecutors have presented so far indicates that Mr. Stone was far more involved with outreach to WikiLeaks than the Mueller report revealed and that Mr. Trump was more directly connected to Mr. Stone’s email efforts than had been known.
It goes without saying that evidence suggesting that Mr. Trump knew of efforts to help his campaign by getting emails hacked by Russians won’t help him fend off impeachment sparked by evidence that he pressured Ukraine to aid his 2020 re-election effort. One of the favors that Mr. Trump asked of the Ukrainian president was to look into a debunked conspiracy theory blaming Ukraine rather than Russia for the 2016 election hacking.
As The Times reported, prosecutors “set out a detailed timeline showing how Mr. Stone’s interactions with Mr. Trump and his campaign officials overlapped with developments involving the Russian hackers or WikiLeaks.”
For instance, on June 14, 2016, the day that The Washington Post broke the news of the Russian hacking, phone records show three quick phone calls between Mr. Trump and Mr. Stone. Another data point: On July 31, after a brief call to Mr. Trump’s home phone, Mr. Stone directed an associate to “see Assange,” assumed to be a reference to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The trial is a result of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, but information about these phone records was not included in the version of the Mueller report released to the public, presumably because it was redacted as pertinent to a criminal investigation.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Stone repeatedly boasted of having an “intermediary” and a “back-channel” keeping him up-to-date about WikiLeaks’s scheduled release of information. Mr. Stone indicated to the House Intelligence Committee that a former radio host, Randy Credico, was the only person serving as his go-between. Prosecutors allege that this was false and that a conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi, was doing similar outreach.
Mr. Stone is accused of repeatedly threatening Mr. Credico for cooperating with investigators — or turning “stoolie,” as Mr. Stone called it — warning in one email, “Prepare to die [expletive].” He also threatened Mr. Credico’s dog.
Mr. Stone’s lawyers told jurors that this “rude” and “odious” banter with Mr. Credico was part and parcel of the two men’s “strange relationship.”
Jurors, the broader public and Congress may be more interested in Mr. Stone’s strange relationship with the Trump campaign.
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