Circle of Collusion: Assange to Stone to Trump Campaign and Back
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The indictment of Roger Stone, who was arrested Friday by the FBI and charged with lying to Congress, provides the first detailed evidence that Stone was a go-between for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. In 2016, WikiLeaks had and released a large numbers of emails that had been stolen by Russian intelligence from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Stone’s coordination between the campaign and WikiLeaks is substantive, from what the court filings show. Stone, a Republican political operative and confidant of Trump, got advance notice of WikiLeaks document releases that he passed on to the Trump campaign. That included information about an “October surprise,” which turned out to be the leaking of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails.
Stone also allegedly sent messages back to Assange, through intermediaries, specifying the precise content of Clinton emails he would like to see leaked.
All this appears, according to the indictment, to be supported by documentary evidence in the form of emails. If accurate, it proves a degree of coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks — which was getting its leak material from Russian intelligence.
The circle of collusion therefore runs from Russian intelligence to Assange to Stone to the Trump campaign, and back again at least as far as Assange.
We already knew that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating Stone’s contacts with Assange through right-wing journalist Jerome Corsi and radio personality Randy Credico, who are identified in Stone’s indictment as Person 1 and Person 2, respectively.
What’s new in the indictment is that Mueller has emails from Corsi and Credico that carry messages from Assange to Stone and back: particularly focused on the “October surprise” of stolen document releases by WikiLeaks.
For example, on Aug. 2, 2016, Corsi wrote to Stone that “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back [from Europe]. 2d in October. Impact planned to be very damaging.” The “friend in embassy” refers to Assange, who is living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London out of fear of arrest.
The Corsi email thus demonstrates that Assange was providing precise timing information to Stone, and via Stone to Trump’s campaign. That’s evidence of coordination.
In the same email, Corsi provided Stone with specific advice to the Trump campaign based on what he was hearing from Assange about the planned leaks: “Would not hurt,” he wrote, “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 debacle.”
To the extent that the Trump campaign followed this approach after Aug. 2, it would be further evidence of coordination with Assange — and by one further step, of collusion with the Russian intelligence operatives who stole the emails in the first place and gave them to Assange to deploy against Clinton.
(If anyone still believes that Assange is some sort of publicly interested crusader, Corsi’s email also does much to dispel that. The email indicated that Assange consciously intended to harm Clinton’s campaign, as Corsi helpfully explained to Stone in the same email: “Time to let more than [Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] 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.” In other words, according to Corsi, Assange wanted Clinton’s supporters to abandon her or pay the price of having their information leaked.)
The collusion also appears to have run in the other direction, from Stone to Assange. On Sept. 18, 2016, Stone sent message back to Assange via Credico.
Stone emailed Credico, including an article alleging wrongdoing by Clinton as secretary of state, and wrote: “Please ask [Assange] for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30 — particularly on August 20, 2011 that mention [the subject of the article] or confirm this narrative.”
The next day, Stone followed up, writing “Pass my message ... to [Assange].” Credico replied, “I did.”
This highly specific request for leaks connected to the news cycle might have come only from Stone, rather than from the campaign directly. The indictment doesn’t say.
But either way it shows that Stone wasn’t just a passive recipient of information from Assange, but actively sought particular leaks.
The strongest evidence that the Trump campaign was using Stone to reach Assange comes from an email that went to Stone after Oct. 4, when Assange held a news conference that Stone had expected to include revelations on Clinton but did not.
According to the indictment, after that event, Stone got an email from a “high-ranking Trump Campaign official” that asked “about the status of future releases by” WikiLeaks.
Stone had already asked Credico about the disappointing news conference (emailing, “WTF?”) and been told in response, “head-fake.”
Stone wrote back to the unnamed high campaign official that Assange had a “serious security concern” but that WikiLeaks would nevertheless release “a load every week going forward.”
A few days later, on Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks indeed released its first set of Podesta emails, initiating its October surprise. The indictment says that shortly thereafter, an “associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to Stone that read ‘well done.’”
The indictment doesn’t provide definitive proof that the Trump campaign was directly coordinating with Assange. But it does very strongly suggest that Stone was a key link between Assange and the campaign in coordinating WikiLeaks’s release of emails stolen from Democrats by Russian intelligence.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Noah Feldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Harvard University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. His books include “The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President.”
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