Just as the nation zeroes in on the House impeachment inquiry brought on by Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election, one of the last shoes is dropping over foreign interference in the election of 2016.
Roger Stone — an informal Trump adviser and infamous longtime GOP henchman — is now on trial in federal court on criminal charges that he lied under oath to House investigators, as well as engaged in witness tampering, regarding the 2016 Trump campaign’s connections to Wikileaks and its dissemination of damaging emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee that were hacked by Russia.
Stone, the alleged go-between connecting WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, was indicted in January as part of the investigation by Robert Mueller. The details of his involvement in the Trump/Russia scandal were heavily redacted in the Mueller Report.
On day one of the trial, prosecutors dropped a bombshell, presenting call records showing that Trump and Stone spoke on the phone regularly as the WikiLeaks email-dump saga evolved, including on the day the DNC announced it had been hacked. Federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky stopped short of arguing Trump directed Stone’s activity, but the government alleged Stone’s criminal cover-up was perpetrated on behalf of the now-President. “Evidence will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad,” Zelinsky told jurors. “The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”
The defense strategy, by contrast, is to paint their client as unreliable. Stone’s lawyers are arguing that their client is a braggart, not a felon, and that Stone’s many and public claims to have established a back-channel with Wikileaks was just “made-up stuff.”
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On Wednesday at trial, the jury were shown emails from Stone that prosecutors allege demonstrate his foreknowledge of WikiLeaks dumps of hacked materials. In one email to Erik Prince, the Blackwater executive who was part of the larger Trump campaign orbit, Stone wrote: “spoke to my friend in London last night” — an apparent reference to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, then holed up at the Ecuador’s U.K. embassy — and that “the payload is still coming.” Another Stone email to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon revealed that there would be “a load every week going forward.”
Day two has focused on the most serious charges Stone faces: witness tampering. According to the federal indictment, Stone sought to get Randy Credico, another alleged player in the Trump campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks, to obstruct the House Intelligence committee’s investigation into the matter. The indictment captures Stone citing Richard Nixon in one text to Credico: “’Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ . . . Richard Nixon,” Stone wrote.
The Godfather: Part II also plays a significant role in government evidence of witness tampering. In evidence cited in the indictment, Stone encouraged Credico to pull a “Frank Pentangeli” a reference to movie character who “testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know.”
In trial Thursday, the prosecution has been presenting the Credico evidence, including angry messages Stone and Credico exchanged as the two had a falling out over the Congressional testimony. As recorded by Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn, the texts grew increasingly foul, almost to the point of farce:
Parents cover your kids eyes for this one. Stone to Credico, 4/9/18: “I know u are a dumb shit but read the constitution. I have a constitutional right to call you a lightweight pantywaist cocksucker drunk asshole piece of shit and I just did.”
— Darren Samuelsohn (@dsamuelsohn) November 7, 2019
If Stone is convicted he faces serious jail time, including as much as 20 years for witness tampering, and as much as five years each for six counts relating to obstructing and making false statements to Congress. The trial is expected to last three weeks.