WASHINGTON — The conviction of Roger Stone Friday on seven felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering represents a capstone to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, establishing that one of President Trump’s longtime political advisers did everything he could to conceal the truth from congressional investigators.
The conviction takes on added importance because, in the course of a week-and-a-half trial, prosecutors presented fresh evidence that Stone was in repeated contact with senior members of Trump’s campaign, who regarded him as an “access point” to WikiLeaks as the website was about to release emails damaging to Hillary Clinton.
But in a surprise twist, one of the prosecution’s chief witnesses in the case — former radio talk show host and comedian Randy Credico — told Yahoo News Friday that he was in tears upon learning of the verdict and did not want to see Stone, who is facing up to 50 years in prison, go to jail because of his testimony.
“I hate to see the guy go to jail because of me,” Credico said in a phone interview minutes after the verdict. “I feel horrible that this happened. This is not a day to rejoice.”
One of the counts on which Stone was convicted, witness tampering, was based on a series of emails and texts he sent to Credico pressuring him to back up his story that the comedian was his backchannel to WikiLeaks. In one of those emails, Stone wrote: “You are a rat. A stoolie. ... Prepare to die.” Stone then appeared to threaten Credico’s service dog, Bianca, saying he would “take that dog away from you.”
But Credico said Friday he never took the threat to Bianca literally, saying he tried to make that clear on the witness stand when he told the jury he believed that Stone was a dog lover.
“Those threats about my dog were not anything I took seriously,” Credico said. “I only put [the emails and texts] out there as a brushback pitch. ... This was a fender-bender that spun into a 21-car pileup. All he had to do was tell the truth and this would not have spun out of control.”
The evidence during the trial that prosecutors laid out that got the biggest headlines showed Trump and his top campaign officials were more than eager to hear from Stone, a self-styled dirty trickster, during the 2016 campaign and take advantage of what WikiLeaks was about to unload despite widespread signs at the time that the emails it received were the product of a Russian hack.
“When you’re this far behind, you’re going to have to use every tool in the toolbox — opposition research, dirty tricks, the kind of things campaigns use when you need to make up some ground,” Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign’s CEO, testified during the trial about his reaction after receiving an email from Stone during the summer of 2016. It was Bannon who testified that the Trump campaign saw Stone as its “access point” to WikiLeaks.
But the verdict — which is likely to lead to a prison term for Stone when he is sentenced on Feb. 6 — is unlikely to settle the question of whether Stone or anybody else in the campaign actually coordinated with WikiLeaks or the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. Starting in the summer of 2016, Stone repeatedly implied he had advance knowledge of what WikiLeaks was about to release, saying in one interview he had “backchannel communication” with the group and its leader, Julian Assange. “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on Aug. 21, 2016, referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. On Oct. 3, 2016, Stone emailed Erik Prince, a prominent Trump supporter who had ties to the campaign: “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” That was four days before WikiLeaks began dumping emails that had been hacked by Russian military intelligence from Podesta’s email account.
When he testified before the House Intelligence Committee the next year, Stone denied that he ever had advance knowledge of what WikiLeaks was about to release or that he had any emails or texts with anybody about his efforts to communicate with the group. Instead, Stone said he relied by phone on talks with an “intermediary” who confirmed to him what he had already deduced from Assange’s public comments. Stone later identified that intermediary as Credico, who in fact had texted Stone on Oct. 1 on his way back from London: “big news Wednesday ... Hillary’s campaign will die this week.”
But Credico testified during the trial that he actually knew nothing about what WikiLeaks was about to release — and prosecutors never presented any evidence he or Stone ever did. Instead, prosecutors suggested that when Stone identified Credico as his backchannel, he was actually trying to protect his communications with another figure, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. On July 25 Stone had emailed Corsi, asking him to find out what information was being held by WikiLeaks and Assange, who was then hiding from the police in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Corsi responded on Aug. 2: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”
But Corsi was never called as a witness in the trial and prosecutors presented no evidence that he was in communication with WikiLeaks, leaving open the question of whether Stone or anybody else had advance knowledge about the group’s emails or were instead engaging in misleading puffery.
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