Let’s put aside the method of Roger Stone’s arrest, which as Jazz noted earlier was curious at best, for the moment. The indictment itself contains political headaches for Donald Trump, at the very least. The special counsel alleges that Stone acted as a conduit between Wikileaks and “senior Trump Campaign officials” not just about what Wikileaks had already released, but also what was coming out next. And the indictment claims that they have the communications to prove it in court.
CBS reported the crux of the problem for the White House:
"The most damaging information in this indictment for the administration is that [Roger] Stone was allegedly in touch with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks' releases," @PaulaReidCBS reports. https://t.co/6OI3qetWP6 pic.twitter.com/BAB6HNJItU
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 25, 2019
The indictment doesn’t specifically name WikiLeaks, but the indictment paints a picture of how Stone was allegedly in touch through intermediaries with “Organization 1,” which leaked emails from Democrats during the 2016 presidential election.
Furthermore, the indictment claims Stone spoke to senior Trump campaign officials about “Organization 1,” and information it might have to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The indictment also alleges Stone was contacted by senior Trump campaign officials to inquire about future releases the organization might have.
In one text obtained by Mueller’s office, on Oct. 1, 2016, “Person 2″ sent Stone text messages that said, ‘big news Wednesday . . . now pretend u don’t know me . . . Hillary’s campaign will die this week.'”
Six days later, hackers began releasing Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal emails.
It seems Stone didn’t do a very good job of covering his tracks, nor of covering his butt when testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. Most of the charges in the indictment are for obstruction and false testimony before Congress, which allege that Stone lied repeatedly about text and e-mail communications. The final charge, witness tampering, alleges that Stone convinced a radio host (“Person 2”) who had once interviewed Julian Assange on air to take the Fifth rather than cooperate. After that, the indictment alleges that Stone then attempted to threaten Person 2 into lying to help cover up Stone’s perjury.
Does this “prove” Russian collusion, a question posed by Jazz? No, but it certainly doesn’t do anything to demonstrate clean hands in the campaign, either. US intelligence services have concluded that Wikileaks got its hands on the Hillary Clinton and John Podesta e-mails via Russian intelligence, knowingly or not. If Assange knowingly coordinated with the Russians to get his hands on this data, then one has to wonder whether Stone knew it, and whether he briefed “senior Trump Campaign officials” on the provenance of the data. This potentially opens up another line of investigation by Robert Mueller and his special-counsel team.
But even if it doesn’t, it shows that “senior Trump Campaign officials” had some knowledge of the exploitation of illegal hacking before the exploit occurred. That may or may not put them in legal jeopardy even aside from “Russia collusion,” depending on just what Stone told them — and whether Mueller can get Stone to flip on that point. Regardless of whether it results in an indictment, the story laid out by prosecutors paints an ugly picture of a major-party presidential campaign playing footsie with overseas hackers attacking their opponents. At best.
At the moment, though, the White House’s biggest worry has to be whether Stone will turn into a cooperator now that the hammer has dropped. If convicted, Stone will end up spending a lot of time in federal prison, and probably not the Club Fed variety. Maybe there’s nothing else to tell. But if there is …
Update: Sarah Huckabee Sanders says “this has nothing to do with the president”:
“This has nothing to do with the president – and nothing to do with the White House,” Sarah Sanders tells @JohnBerman, calling him a political consultant for dozens of candidates. Then she pivots to an attack on Clinton, Comey and others alleging they made false statements
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 25, 2019
Stone was a professional political consultant with other clients — but the indictment specifies his contacts with “senior Trump Campaign officials.” That may not mean the president himself; in any serious campaign, a guy like Stone wouldn’t be allowed within a hundred yards of the candidate. After the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, it’s tough to be confident that was the case in the Trump 2016 campaign.