By Billy House, Shannon Pettypiece and Kevin Whitelaw / Bloomberg
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s arrest of Roger Stone could carry serious implications for President Donald Trump with the prosecutor describing how his campaign pursued information about hacked emails concerning his opponent.
The seven-count indictment lays out a series of contacts between Stone and senior campaign officials deep into 2016 concerning the release of hacked information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign by WikiLeaks, a group linked to the Russian government. In particular, it alleges that a senior campaign aide initiated those contacts.
After WikiLeaks released stolen Democratic National Committee emails on July 22, 2016, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1,” the indictment said. The description of “Organization 1” in the indictment matches WikiLeaks.
Mueller’s indictment also describes how a “high-ranking Trump campaign official” was in touch with Stone in October 2016 ahead of the release of additional damaging information about Clinton’s campaign by WikiLeaks. An associate of that official texted Stone after the release to say, “Well done.” The high-ranking official was Stephen Bannon, who later served as Trump’s top strategist, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The president has tried in recent months to downplay his connections to Stone, who had a brief role as a top adviser in Trump’s presidential campaign until August 2015.
“What I do know is that this has nothing to do with the president,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday. “It has nothing to do with the White House.”
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 that he didn’t recall having a conversation with Stone “basically past the first week or two of our campaign,” and that “I didn’t really deal with Roger too much.”
Asked who in the campaign did, Trump Jr. replied, “I don’t know if anyone did.” He added, “I don’t know that he had an actual role in our campaign.”
But Stone’s ties to Trump run deep.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said that Trump did have a few phone calls with Stone during the campaign based on the phone records he reviewed. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has also said he kept in communication with Stone during the campaign.
Stone was arrested by FBI agents Friday on charges of lying to Congress, obstructing a probe and witness tampering.
The 66-year-old Republican operative began working with Trump in 1980s. Along the way, he helped Trump to explore earlier presidential bids, starting with the 1988 race. When Trump considered running ahead of the 2012 and 2016 elections, Stone was one of the first consultants he turned to.
In December, Trump tweeted about Stone saying publicly he wasn’t planning to provide damaging information about the president: “‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”
Stone also has longtime ties to Manafort, who has already been convicted on multiple charges in Mueller’s investigation. They had been partners in a Republican lobbying firm formed in 1980, which came to include Lee Atwater as a senior partner of its political-functioning arm.
Stone told Bloomberg News in December that he has “not been to the White House since Reagan was president.” However, it was his time inside the Trump campaign that Mueller and congressional investigators have focused on.
Stone’s role as someone catching the interest of Russia probe investigators stems specifically from his publishing of cryptic tweets, including one Aug. 21, 2016 that it would soon be Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s “time in the barrel.”
Then, on Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails stolen from Podesta’s email account. That fed questions about his Trump campaign contacts with WikiLeaks during the campaign and into possible coordination in disseminating the emails, which U.S. intelligence officials say were stolen by Russia.
Stone has claimed to both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee he had no direct contact with WikiLeaks, but only via an intermediary, which he later identified as a radio host, Randy Credico. He has also denied knowledge of or involvement in any Russian collusion, or other inappropriate act.
But early this month, Stone acknowledged to Bloomberg that the focus on him was intensifying, as Mueller and his team obtained his congressional testimony. “Clearly they have no evidence of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration and are now attempting hairsplitting and to play word games over material which does not in any way rise to the level of perjury, which as you know requires both intent and materiality,” he said.
Trump had said he fired Stone from his presidential campaign. Stone said he quit, citing Trump clashes with the media, namely then-Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, which he said distracted from the candidate’s message. Stone has remained loyal, however. Just days later, he wrote an op-ed supportive of Trump, arguing Trump alone had the stature, experience and guts to take on the entrenched special interests and save America from further decline.
Stone’s own notoriety led to a Netflix documentary in 2017 about him, “Get Me Roger Stone.” In it, he proclaims, “My name is Roger Stone, and I’m an agent provocateur.” He added that one of his rules is: “It is better to be infamous than never be famous at all.”
In fact, Stone’s political consulting work has long been as colorfully self-promoting as it has been combative, often finding him accused of disinformation and dirty tricks, some of which he eagerly does not deny.
He dropped out of college to volunteer on President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, and has always claimed to relish that involvement. An unapologetic admirer of Nixon, he’s made his mark in conservative politics with a reputation as not only a consultant who can play out of bounds, but also a slick self-promoter who craves the spotlight. He serves now even as a men’s fashion consultant for the conservative outlet Daily Caller.
Over the years, Stone served as a northeast regional political director for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, and also a political consultant or campaign manager to other Republicans, including Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jack Kemp, Prescott Bush and the former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.
With assistance from Bloomberg’s Chris Strohm.