'Stonewall it': Trump ally Roger Stone arrested in Mueller probe

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

Roger Stone briefed “multiple” Trump campaign officials about the imminent release of stolen Democratic emails by WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign and then sought to obstruct a congressional inquiry into the matter, telling one close associate: “‘Stonewall it. Plead the Fifth. Anything to save the plan.’ … Richard Nixon,” according to criminal charges filed by special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday.

And when that associate, radio talk show host and comedian Randy Credico, publicly disputed Stone’s account to investigators, he lashed out at him and even threatened his dog, the indictment charges. “You are a rat. A stoolie. … Prepare to die [expletive],” Stone emailed him, according to the account by prosecutors. 

Roger Stone and Donald Trump. (Photos: Jose Luis Magana/AP; Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser who served briefly on his presidential campaign, was arrested by the FBI at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after he was charged on seven counts of obstruction, false statements to Congress and witness tampering. Stone appeared in handcuffs before a Florida magistrate Friday and was released on a $250,000 bond. 

Outside the courthouse, Stone defiantly told reporters: “I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court. I believe this is a politically motivated investigation. There are no circumstances whatsoever that I will bear false witness against the president.”

Stone said that any “error” he made in his testimony before Congress were “immaterial and without intent.” He also charged that FBI agents who arrived at his home to arrest him “terrorized my wife, my dogs” although he later said they acted professionally.

The long-awaited indictment lays out new details of Stone’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about how and what he knew in advance about the release by WikiLeaks of Clinton campaign emails, which became a major embarrassment for her campaign and a talking point for Trump. The emails were stolen by Russian intelligence from the Gmail account of campaign chief John Podesta.

According to the indictment, after WikiLeaks initially released thousands of Democratic National Committee emails hacked by the Russians in July 2016, a senior Trump campaign official “was directed to contact” Stone about additional releases and what other damaging information WikiLeaks had about the Clinton campaign. The campaign official or the person that “directed him” is not identified. Stone later denied having any emails, texts and other documents relating to the WikiLeaks emails, although he had repeatedly emailed and texted about the issue with two associates — Credico and conspiracy theorist and author Jerome Corsi — and with senior Trump campaign official Steve Bannon. (Corsi, Credico and Bannon are not identified by name in the indictment but can be identified based on the previous public release of some of the email exchanges.)

When the Podesta emails were released by WikiLeaks on Oct. 7 — timing that drew media attention away from the release just 29 minutes earlier of the “Access Hollywood” tape that threatened to end Trump’s campaign — Stone claimed credit for the document dump to top Trump campaign officials and seems to have been recognized for his efforts. “Well done,” an unnamed associate of Bannon texted him that day.

Still, the indictment fails to resolve a central question that has been at the heart of the Russia inquiry from the start: whether Stone actually had direct contacts with Julian Assange or anyone at WikiLeaks about the release of the Podesta emails or whether, as he has at times claimed, his predictions about the imminent release of damaging Clinton emails were a combination of braggadocio and conjecture. The indictment conspicuously omits any evidence of direct communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, and neither of his two supposed intermediaries — Corsi and Credico — were charged in the case. Nor was anyone from the Trump campaign.

A vehicle carrying Roger Stone arrives at a federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jan. 25, 2019. (Photo: Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Stone’s lawyer conceded that his testimony was incomplete but chalked it up to a failure of memory. “There was no Russian collusion, it’s a clear attempt at silencing Roger,” attorney Grant Smith told ABC News. “This was an investigation they started about Russian collusion and now they’re charging Roger Stone with lying to Congress about something he honestly forgot about, and as Roger has stated publicly before, he will fight the charges,” Smith said.

The indictment of Stone nonetheless marks a milestone for the Russia inquiry, making him the sixth Trump associate or campaign official to have faced criminal charges in the case. A self-styled “dirty trickster,” Stone’s involvement in American politics dates back to his days working for Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign when his underhanded tactics caught the attention of Watergate investigators. Stone had been friends with Trump for nearly 40 years and served as his on-again, off-again political adviser for much of that time. When Stone published a book attacking Hillary Clinton in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, it even carried a blurb from Trump: “We appreciate Roger Stone. … he is one tough cookie.”

Although he formally left the Trump campaign only a few months after it was launched in June 2015 — there was debate over whether he was fired or resigned over clashes with then campaign chief Corey Lewandowski — Stone stayed in touch with Trump and other top campaign officials.

In the summer of 2016, he had multiple text exchanges with Guccifer 2.0 — since identified as an online persona created by Russian military intelligence. And starting on Aug. 8, he began making predictions about an “October Surprise” by WikiLeaks that would show “stone-cold proof of the criminality of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.”

“I actually have communicated with [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange,” Stone told a Florida Republican group that day. “I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October Surprise might be.” On Aug. 21, he tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Stone has repeatedly denied that he had inside information about Assange’s plans and insists he never had any direct communications with anyone at WikiLeaks.

But, as the Mueller indictment lays out, it was not for lack of trying: At a key moment, he sought to enlist Corsi to ferret out what stolen material Assange might have on the Clintons. “Get to” Assange, he emailed Corsi on July 25, “and get the pending [WikiLeaks] emails … they deal with Foundation allegedly,” according to the indictment.

Special counsel Robert Mueller. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Corsi later told Stone in an email that he was having an associate in Europe — since identified as Ted Malloch, a London-based academic and Trump supporter — contact Assange. On Aug. 2, Corsi emailed Stone: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”

Corsi, who by his admission has been threatened with criminal charges by Mueller but was not charged in Friday’s indictment, has since said that he never knew anything for sure about what material Assange had and that Malloch never actually communicated with Assange. Malloch has been questioned by the FBI but also was not charged Friday,

At the same time, Stone was repeatedly emailing and texting with Credico — a left-wing New York radio host who interviewed Assange on his program on Aug. 25. Credico at times led Stone on about Assange’s plans, telling him in one text on Aug. 27: Assange “has kryptonite on Hillary,” the indictment charges. On Oct. 1, Credico emailed Stone: “big news Wednesday…now pretend u don’t know me…Hillary’s campaign will die this week.” When the promised emails weren’t released that day, Stone texted Credico: “WTF?” Credico replied “head fake.”

Credico has also denied he knew anything for sure about what Assange was about to do and the indictment presents no evidence that he actually did.

But the most damaging charges against Stone relate to his alleged later efforts to obstruct the congressional inquiry into the matter, including what the indictment portrays as efforts to intimidate Credico from talking to investigators.

During his 2017 testimony, Stone claimed that he had a “back channel” and “intermediary” who confirmed to him what Assange was going to do — and he later in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee identified that person as Credico.

But when Credico resisted confirming Stone’s story, Stone urged him to “stonewall” investigators. On Dec. 1, after Credico had been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee, Stone told him he should do a “Frank Pentageli” — a reference to the mobster in “The Godfather: Part II” who lies to a Senate hearing — and added in a text: “And if you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.”

And when Credico began to publicly dispute Stone’s account, Stone emailed him on April 9: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends — run your mouth my lawyers are dying [to] Rip you to shreds.” Stone also appeared to threaten Bianco, Credico’s service dog, texting him he would “take that dog away from you” adding that same day: “Prepare to die [expletive],” the indictment charges.

When Stone was questioned by the House Intelligence Committee about his contacts with his “intermediary” to Assange — a reference to Credico — he falsely claimed that he never texted or emailed with him at all, according to the indictment.

Radio host and comedian Randy Credico with his dog, Bianca, after testifying before a grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller, in Washington, Sept. 7, 2018. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

“So you never communicated with your intermediary in writing in any way?” Stone was asked. “No,” he replied. “So all your conversations with him were in person or over the phone?” “Correct,” Stone replied.

More broadly, according to the indictment, Stone made “deliberately false and misleading statements” during his House testimony, telling the panel that he possessed no emails and texts with anyone about the WikiLeaks material. “You have no emails, no texts, no documents whatsoever, any kind of that nature?” he was asked. “That is correct. Not to my knowledge,” he replied.

The indictment is silent on why Stone would have lied to investigators about the matter, if, as he claims, he was never in direct contact with WikiLeaks. But one clue is a separate series of emails and texts he was having about the Assange material with multiple Trump campaign officials, including then campaign chief Steve Bannon. Starting in June and July of 2016, Stone “informed Trump Campaign officials that he had information” about WikiLeaks document dumps and continued to brief campaign officials throughout the summer and early fall, the indictment charges.

On Oct. 4, Bannon emailed Stone asking about the status of the predicted WikiLeaks dumps and Stone replied that Assange had a “serious security concern” but that WikiLeaks would release “a load every week going forward.”

It was on Oct. 7 — when WikiLeaks finally began releasing the stolen Podesta emails shortly after the release of the politically damaging “Access Hollywood” tape — that a Bannon associate texted Stone “well done.” The indictment then adds: “In subsequent conversations with senior Trump Campaign officials, Stone claimed credit for having correctly predicted the October 7, 2016 release.”

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