No pussyfooting around the Roger Stone indictment, eh? Donald Trump made it categorical in a round-table interview with the New York Times, the transcript of which came out this morning. Maggie Haberman asked Trump if he ever directed Roger Stone to find out what Wikileaks had on Hillary Clinton, and Trump denied talking to Stone at all about it:
HABERMAN: Did you ever talk to him about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed —
HABERMAN: You never had conversations with him.
TRUMP: No, I didn’t. I never did.
HABERMAN: Did you ever tell him to — or other people to get in touch with them?
TRUMP: Never did.
HABERMAN: You saw that was in the indictment.
TRUMP: Can I tell you? I didn’t see it. I know what was in the indictment if you read it, there was no collusion with Russia. But that’s in a lot of these things. And a lot of them are: They come in, they interview somebody and they get them for lying. I mean, you know.
“Everybody knows Roger,” Trump later added. However, Trump also made sure to point out that Stone had only briefly worked for his campaign and had left long before the DNC hack was known, and possibly before it took place, in mid-2015. (This was almost a full year before the hack took place.) Trump claims that even then, Stone was “not my consultant,” occupying a lower-rung position in the campaign even during that brief period.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes the categorical nature of the denial, but wonders how long it will last:
The reason this is such a big question is because of Roger Stone’s week-old indictment. In that document, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team noted that after the initial June 2016 dump of WikiLeaks documents, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE” about WikiLeaks and its future releases.
The passive voice loomed large. Many other people in these documents are alluded to using titles such as “senior official” and “high-ranking official,” but in this case Mueller’s team isn’t saying who “directed” that senior campaign official, despite having evidence that the person was directed by someone.
It’s difficult to dismiss that as some coincidence, drafting error or a careless choice of words. The people who write these things parse them endlessly, and had to know that line would stick out.
Considering that, some have theorized it’s a reference to Trump himself. Who else would direct a “senior Trump Campaign official,” after all?
Er … a more senior campaign official? That doesn’t necessarily mean Trump. In most campaigns, candidates are focused far more on the tasks on their own plate and leave oppo research to their staff. Granted, Trump was not a conventional candidate in many ways, and has a predilection for reveling in dirt on his opponents. (Just ask Michael Cohen’s father-in-law.) But Trump’s approach on that is exceedingly superficial, gathering stuff off of Twitter and Fox & Friends. It’s hardly intuitive to leap to a conclusion that a candidate directed some oppo research efforts personally, even if it’s not impossible.
Blake may be missing the forest for the trees anyway. The larger point, especially as it relates to the Russia-collusion theory, is that it’s clear that the Trump campaign didn’t know what Wikileaks was doing. If they had connections to Russian intelligence on the Wikileaks dump, why would they need the famously indiscreet Roger Stone to sniff out what Wikileaks had? That’s a point Andrew McCarthy made last weekend:
Mueller’s indictments of Russian entities strongly suggest that Russia acted alone in its hacking and troll-farm operations: The Kremlin neither needed nor sought help from Trump; its operations actually predated Trump’s candidacy; and sometimes it operated against Trump. Moreover, Mueller has never uttered a single sentence in all his charging instruments alleging Trump’s complicity in Russia’s espionage — the indicted Russians have no connection to the Trump campaign, and the indicted people in Trump’s orbit have no connection to Russia’s hacking.
So now we have the Stone indictment.
It alleges no involvement — by Stone or the Trump campaign — in Russia’s hacking. The indictment’s focus, instead, is the WikiLeaks end of the enterprise — i.e., not the “cyberespionage” of a foreign power that gave rise to the investigation, but the dissemination of the stolen emails after the hacking. And what do we learn? That the Trump campaign did not know what WikiLeaks had. That is, in addition to being uninvolved in Russia’s espionage, the Trump campaign was uninvolved in Julian Assange’s acquisition of what Russia stole.
The indictment alleges that Stone starts telling people “in or around June and July 2016″ that he had connections to Wikileaks (pp 11, emphasis mine). The website DCLeaks.com launched on June 8, and Julian Assange announced on June 12th that Wikileaks has e-mails from Hillary Clinton. That puts Stone’s bragging after everyone knew of the hacking already, and that Wikileaks was involved. When Wikileaks denied any communications with Stone, he then claimed to have an “intermediary” for the contact.
So what do we have here? Stone’s trying to sell himself as an insider, but as the indictment later makes clear, Stone didn’t know anything at all at first. He asks “Person 1” (reportedly Jerome Corsi) to make contact with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London (pp 13a) to get a handle on what Assange has. Person 1 reports later in August that Assange informed him of two more dumps coming in the future (pp 13b). Over the next couple of months, a flurry of conversations take place estimating future releases and vague characterizations about how damaging they might be. This got passed along to a “senior Trump Campaign official,” an associate of whom later congratulated Stone for his prediction of the October 7th Wikileaks release.
All of which prompts the question: if the Trump campaign had any connection to Russian intelligence — even after the hack — why bother with Stone’s predictions in the first place? The last thing the campaign would want at that point is a freelancer who might draw attention to any connections.
On top of all that, none of those communications themselves were illegal in the first place. (Unethical, yes, but illegal, no.) Stone didn’t do anything to abet the hack; if he had, Robert Mueller would have indicted him for those crimes rather than the process crimes in the indictment. Stone didn’t break the law until he lied to Congress about his contacts with Wikileaks and tampered with a witness to Congress. If Stone didn’t do anything illegal in contacting Assange and passing along the information, then the Trump campaign didn’t do anything illegal in contacting Stone about it, either.
It may have been slimy, and that might present political problems for Trump, but not legal problems. Unless he lied about it to Mueller, of course.