Roger Stone, after his release, outside the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Trump adviser Roger Stone is arrested in Mueller’s Russia investigation

WASHINGTON — Roger Stone, a Republican consultant who embraced his decades-old reputation as a dirty trickster and helped launch President Donald Trump’s political career, was arrested Friday morning in the Russia investigation and accused of lying about his pursuit of hacked Democratic Party emails.

Stone, 66, was charged with one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering. He was released on a $250,000 bond after a federal court appearance in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was taken into custody at his home before sunrise.

He emerged from the courthouse smiling, his arms outstretched in a V-for-victory pose made famous by his political idol, President Richard Nixon, who resigned from office during the Watergate scandal.

“I will plead not guilty to these charges,” Stone told reporters. “I will defeat them in court. I believe this is a politically motivated investigation.”

At the center of the charges are Stone’s conversations involving WikiLeaks, which released emails that were hacked by Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. According to prosecutors, Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about those communications and tried to persuade another person to provide false testimony.

The indictment from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III also said Stone had several contacts with unnamed people in the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks. After the organization released the first batch of hacked emails shortly before the Democratic National Convention, “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone” about what else WikiLeaks might have, according to the indictment.

Stone allegedly sought information from WikiLeaks through an intermediary, Jerome Corsi, a far-right writer and conspiracy theorist, and then updated people connected to the Trump campaign.

“The payload is still coming,” Stone wrote to one supporter on Oct. 3, according to the indictment.

Stone also received an inquiry from Steven Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive who was identified in the indictment as a “high-ranking” member of the team. He told Bannon to expect “a load every week going forward.”

Days later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Stone later “claimed credit for having correctly predicted the October 7, 2016 release,” the indictment said.

Unlike other people charged in the Russia investigation, Stone was not given a chance to turn himself in, and heavily armed federal agents arrested him at his home in Florida. He reportedly was brought into court wearing handcuffs.

Trump reacted angrily on Twitter, calling the Mueller investigation the “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country!” He also criticized how Stone was treated by law enforcement — “Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better.”

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, downplayed the significance of Stone’s arrest.

“The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else,” he said. “Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress.”

Sekulow did not respond to a question about whether Trump directed a campaign official to contact Stone about WikiLeaks, an issue that Democrats are prepared to investigate further.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that his panel “will be eager to learn just who directed a senior campaign official to contact Stone about additional damaging information held by WikiLeaks, one of the publishing arms of Russian government hackers.”

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, described the indictment of Stone as further proof that “the Trump campaign was a willing and active participant in a conspiracy with Russia and WikiLeaks to influence the 2016 election.”

“There are more conspirators yet to be held accountable — and at least one of them is named Donald Trump,” he said in a statement.

Mueller had focused on Stone in his effort to determine if any of Trump’s associates was connected to the theft and release of the internal Democratic Party emails. Stone sometimes suggested that he had inside knowledge about the WikiLeaks plans. But he adamantly denied any wrongdoing and downplayed his previous claims as empty hype. He also had said for months that he was prepared to be charged anyway.

The indictment marks a new phase of Stone’s storied political career, which began in scandal when he was a young volunteer for Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972.

Among other deceptions, Stone admitted to embarrassing a Democratic candidate by donating to his campaign in the name of a socialist group. He later was questioned by the Senate committee probing the Watergate scandal.

Nixon’s resignation in disgrace, ending what his successor, President Ford, called “our long national nightmare,” did not chasten Stone.

He still sports a large tattoo of Nixon’s smiling face on his back. He also has cultivated a reputation as a bare-knuckle political operative willing to cross lines others would not, much like Trump’s late mentor, the disbarred lawyer Roy Cohn.

Stone met Trump while raising money for President Reagan’s campaign in 1980, and Stone eventually began encouraging the New York real estate developer to run for the White House himself.

Stone did not play a major role in Trump’s insurgent presidential campaign — whether he was fired or he quit is a matter of dispute — but he said they stayed in regular touch.

During the presidential race, Stone drew attention by claiming he was in contact with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. He famously tweeted that Podesta would soon face his “time in the barrel” shortly before his hacked emails were released.

Stone has since tried to clarify those statements, insisting he didn’t talk to Assange himself and that his tweet about Podesta was taken out of context. According to the special counsel’s office, he also tried to persuade an associate, Randy Credico, to provide false testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about their conversations involving WikiLeaks.

“Your lawyers should have told them you would assert your 5th Amendment rights if compelled to appear,” Stone allegedly wrote in a text message to Credico, a comedian and radio host who had interviewed Assange on his show.

Stone later suggested Credico commit suicide like a character in “The Godfather: Part II” to avoid testifying and told him he’s “a rat” and “a stoolie,” according to the indictment.

Stone has insisted he had nothing to do with any Russian schemes to release stolen emails or otherwise interfere in the U.S. election.

“There is still no evidence of Russian collusion, Wikileaks collaboration or evidence that I knew the source or content of the allegedly stolen or hacked emails published by Wikileaks,” he wrote in a column published by the Daily Caller, a conservative website, in November 2018. “Enough already.”

Two weeks later, Trump praised Stone for saying in a TV interview that he would never testify against the president.

“Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’ “ Trump tweeted, clearly miffed that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, had just told a federal court that Trump had directed him to pay hush money to two women in an illegal scheme to influence the election.

By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times

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