Roger Stone’s Indictment Hits Trump Close to Home
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- In Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film trilogy about the inner workings of an organized crime family and its rivals, “The Godfather,” a pivotal scene involves a mobster named Frank Pentangeli (“Frankie Five Angels” to his friends) deciding to lie to Congress rather than betray his boss, Michael Corleone.
In Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Roger Stone, filed on Thursday in federal court in Washington, a pivotal scene involves Stone — a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump — advising an associate, Randy Credico, about to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, that he should “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI in order to avoid contradicting” Stone’s own testimony.
Stone allegedly also told Credico (identified as “Person 2” in the indictment) that “if you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool” and that if you testify before Congress “you’re a fool.” Stone, according to the indictment, noted that “because of tromp” (sic) he couldn’t refuse to testify on certain matters, but that the associate would get “indicted for perjury if you’re stupid enough to testify.”
Federal authorities arrested Stone at his Fort Lauderdale home on Friday, charging him with lying to law enforcement officials about his knowledge of and role in the theft and distribution of stolen Democratic National Committee emails by Russian hackers and WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Stone also faces charges for other crimes, including obstruction and witness tampering. Mueller’s office has been investigating Russia’s role in trying to sabotage the 2016 race, as well as possible coordination between Russian interests and the Trump campaign.
The indictment alleges that in the summer of 2016 Stone told senior Trump campaign officials he knew WikiLeaks had information that might damage the prospects of Trump’s rival in the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks, referred to as “Organization 1” in the indictment, released the DNC emails on July 22, 2016, after which an unidentified senior Trump campaign official allegedly “was directed” to contact Stone about other damaging material.
The identity of whoever was allegedly directing the senior official and Stone to seek other damaging information about Clinton isn’t disclosed in the indictment. It was likely someone in the very upper reaches of the campaign — possibly a member of the Trump family or Trump himself. Regardless, the indictment’s 24 pages offer one of law enforcement’s most thorough descriptions to date of how intimately Trump’s closest advisers worked with WikiLeaks and Russian-sponsored hackers during the 2016 campaign. The indictment also draws a very full portrait — via testimony, public statements, email and other evidence — of just how readily and actively the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power in its bid for the presidency.
Stone, according to the indictment, told Trump’s team during the campaign that he knew about other, future document dumps that could harm the Clinton campaign beyond the email trove released in July of 2016. Those with access to the stolen emails would publish “a load a week going forward,” Stone later promised Steve Bannon, who was running the Trump campaign at the time. Before other stolen emails were made public in October of 2016, Stone issued a series of tweets signaling he knew they were about to drop. He also boasted he had been serving as a “backchannel to Assange” (a reference to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange). He later backed away from those statements.
But Stone has also already acknowledged exchanging private, direct messages on Twitter with a hacker using the online alias “Guccifer 2.0,” as first reported by William Bastone in early 2017. Law enforcement officials believe Guccifer 2.0 played a central role in the DNC hack. And when Mueller’s office indicted 12 Russian hackers last July who were also involved in the theft, it cited an unnamed American who was close to the group. Stone shortly thereafter told CNN’s Chris Cuomo he was “probably” the American Mueller’s office referred to in that indictment.
Stone has known Trump for decades. One of Stone’s mentors was the late Roy Cohn, a political fixer and lawyer who represented the Trump family’s business and tutored a young Donald Trump in the art of weaponizing the legal system. Stone also encouraged Trump to make his first foray into presidential politics and campaigning in 1987. Stone operated a lobbying firm with Trump’s former 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and has remained an occasional close adviser and confidant of Trump’s throughout the years.
Stone now embodies one of the most direct connections between Trumplandia and Russian interests. The possibility that he will offer further testimony and evidence to Mueller’s team is likely to loom large in the president’s mind.
Early Friday morning, shortly before he was arrested, Stone posted a photo of Trump and himself on his Instagram account. “Proud of my President @realdonaldtrump #maga,” Stone wrote below the photo. It looks like Stone, someone who has repeatedly bragged he had no fear of law enforcement cracking down on him, may hope Trump keeps him in mind if and when the time rolls around for presidential pardons.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
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