Trump adviser Roger Stone pleads not guilty in Russia probe as he takes on a new role: defendant

Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON — Roger Stone brought his one-man show to the federal courthouse here on Tuesday, setting off from Florida as if it were just another tour stop for an unusual political circus.

The familiar uniform was intact: natty suit, year-round sun tan and bleached white hair. Yet the man whose love for the microphone has few equals fell nearly silent after pleading not guilty to seven criminal counts, including obstruction and witness tampering, as part of Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging inquiry into election interference by the Kremlin.

There was no bashing of Mueller — almost an hourly practice since his arrest before dawn Friday at his Florida home. His most effusive comments came when U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson asked whether he understood the conditions of his continued release: “Yes, your honor,” Stone replied.

For every role he has embraced in a lifetime of rough-and-tumble elective politics — secretive adviser to presidents and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” — the 66-year-old Republican operative has little experience with his new place in public life: criminal defendant. 

He now faces the same grinding legal machinery that has so far secured convictions of three other top Trump associates. 

Stone's lawyer, Robert Buschel, entered his not-guilty plea Tuesday morning. 

Roger Stone, a former political operative for the Trump campaign, arrives for a federal court hearing on Jan. 29, 2019 in Washington.

Robinson ordered Stone to return to court for another hearing on Friday afternoon. She also ordered that Stone refrain from contact with witnesses in the case and that he check in with court authorities once each week.

Since his arrest by heavily armed FBI agents, he has lambasted the raid as "an abuse of power."

Stone has said he wouldn't lie to implicate the president or to save himself, though he has not ruled out cooperating with Mueller's investigators if a deal was offered.

The Indictment: Read the full indictment against Roger Stone, an informal Trump adviser

More: Roger Stone charges shed new light on Trump campaign’s link to WikiLeaks

Background: Who is Roger Stone? Longtime Republican operative worked on campaigns from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump

Hours before Stone's arraignments, media tents sprouted on the plaza outside the federal courthouse in Washington and camera crews staked out each entrance. Stone entered the courthouse through a gauntlet of news cameras and jeering protesters  Dressed in a blue suit and white shirt, he huddled briefly with his lawyers in the second-floor courtroom before the brief hearing began. 

Robinson ordered Stone to see federal marshals so they could book him, but said he would remain free on bond. 

Stone's relationship with WikiLeaks, which published troves of documents stolen from Democratic political organizations by a hacking group backed by Russian military intelligence, is at the heart of Mueller's latest prosecution that has ensnared yet another former adviser to Trump in an investigation that has shadowed the president's first two years in office.

Starting in the summer of 2016, as Trump was securing the Republican nomination for president and as the FBI was launching its initial inquiry into Russia's election interference campaign, prosecutors alleged Friday that Stone communicated with senior Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks and the politically charged material in its possession.

In those contacts, according to court documents, the campaign officials –who were not identified– referred to information that "would be damaging to the Clinton campaign."

Among the most striking of the allegations contained in the new charging documents was a claim that after a July 22 release of stolen Clinton-related emails, "a senior campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information (WikiLeaks) had regarding the Clinton campaign."

"Stone, thereafter, told the Trump campaign about the potential future releases of damaging material by (WikiLeaks)," prosecutors alleged.

Stone has denied serving as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

When Tuesday hearing was over, a subdued Stone left the courthouse as he arrived: declining to comment. His departure required navigating a noisy mosh pit of photographers, some supporters but more protesters.

Some carried Russian flags as a portable speaker system blared the Beatles tune, “Back in the USSR.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump adviser Roger Stone pleads not guilty in Russia probe as he takes on a new role: defendant