The central question of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation is whether the Russian intelligence operation to steal and release Democratic Party emails in 2016 involved coordination with Donald Trump’s campaign and/or promises on the campaign’s behalf to promote Russia-friendly policies. With Friday’s indictment of Roger Stone, Mueller has now charged Trump’s lawyer, national security adviser, campaign chairman, and longest-tenured political adviser (that would be Stone) with crimes related to Russia, detailing a number of incidents in which these figures and others interacted with individuals connected to Russian intelligence and lied about it afterward. But we’re still juuuuuuuuust short of knowing whether there was a central, explicit “collusion” agreement that Trump himself signed off on.
The indictment against Stone, who officially parted ways with the campaign in August 2015 but worked as an informal adviser to Trump thereafter, is a case in point, documenting a number of suspicious communications (and subsequent efforts to cover up of those communications) but not a quid pro quo conspiracy.
Specifically, the indictment says that a Trump campaign official contacted Stone after WikiLeaks’ July 2016 release of documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee to find out if the organization (which would later be shown to have received its Democratic Party–related materials from Russia) had more dirt on Hillary Clinton. (Note: Organization 1 is WikiLeaks.)
After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, 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.
(It’s not clear who the senior Trump campaign official was, or who directed him/her to contact Stone.)
The indictment then cites communications in which Stone tried to get the answer to the campaign official’s question by contacting Jerome Corsi, a conspiracy-mongering author who had a connection to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. Then it shows him hearing back from Corsi that further releases could involve Clinton’s health and her campaign chairman John Podesta. (Person 1 is Corsi and Organization 1 is again WikiLeaks.)
On or about August 2, 2016, Person 1 emailed STONE. Person 1 wrote that he was currently in Europe and planned to return in or around mid-August. Person 1 stated in part, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back [ed.: from a trip to Europe]. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.” The phrase “friend in embassy” referred to the head of Organization 1. Person 1 added in the same email, “Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC. That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke – neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation [ed.: the Clinton Foundation] debacle.”
(Note that the brackets around “the Clinton Campaign chairman” are in the original document. In October 2016, WikiLeaks began releasing an archive of emails stolen from Podesta. The site, in August 2016, also promoted allegations that Clinton had health problems, but its claims were based on emails that had already been made public. The “dump” that was apparently supposed to be made before October didn’t happen, and while some of the emails released in October were related to the Clinton Foundation there was no single bombshell Clinton Foundation dump either.)
The indictment further shows Stone telling Trump-related figures (again in vague terms) that WikiLeaks was planning releases damaging to Clinton:
On or about October 4, 2016, the head of Organization 1 held a press conference but did not release any new materials pertaining to the Clinton Campaign. Shortly afterwards, STONE received an email from the high-ranking Trump Campaign official [ed.: based on other previously public reports, we know this is Steve Bannon] asking about the status of future releases by Organization 1. STONE answered that the head of Organization 1 had a “[s]erious security concern” but that Organization 1 would release “a load every week going forward.”
That’s a lot of back-and-forth between the Trump campaign and an organization that was being used as an arm of Russian intelligence. But the indictment doesn’t show WikiLeaks’ releases being coordinated to maximize their usefulness for the Trump campaign, or show Stone conveying specific information about upcoming releases to the campaign in a way that benefitted Trump. Rather, Stone is charged with obstruction of justice and perjury for lying to Congress about the events above and for threatening a witness (and the witness’s dog!) who was capable of proving that he’d lied.
That stuff might still be coming—just because Stone has only been indicted for the cover-up thus far doesn’t mean he can’t be charged with more later. Investigators raided two of Stone’s residences on Friday, which means they’re still gathering evidence. The special counsel’s office could also already have evidence against him that it’s saving because it’s related to charges yet to be filed against other people (which could be new charges against the likes of Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner or additional charges against Paul Manafort).
A few lines in particular stick out as particularly noteworthy on that front. After the indictment notes that the Trump campaign official reached out to Stone in July 2016, it says that “STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.” Later, it says that “on multiple occasions, STONE told senior Trump Campaign officials about materials possessed by Organization 1 and the timing of future releases.” But it only cites one specific instance of that happening, suggesting that there are others that haven’t yet been disclosed. Those instances could have involved Trump campaign figures making plans to coordinate campaign messaging with WikiLeaks, which would at the very least seem to be a campaign-finance violation given that WikiLeaks is a foreign entity. Or they could have involved the Trump campaign using intermediaries to urge WikiLeaks to release the Podesta emails in order to help bury the Access Hollywood “Grab them by the pussy” story. For his part, Corsi has said that’s what happened, but he’s a notoriously unreliable source. The indictment, for its part, does note that “shortly after” WikiLeaks began dumping Podesta’s emails (which did in fact happen on the same day the Access Hollywood story broke), an “associate of the high ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read ‘well done.’ “
So … hmm? Hmm! To be continued, as usual.