On closer examination, Roger Stone indictment is less than it seems

by Byron York

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There are two sides to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. On one side there are the under-oath statements Stone made to the House Intelligence Committee that Mueller says are false. On the other, there are the Stone statements Mueller did not challenge.

The testimony for which Stone was indicted concerns his descriptions of dealings with two men — Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico — who Stone used to attempt to get in touch with WikiLeaks head Julian Assange in the summer and fall of 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, when WikiLeaks published hacked emails relating to Hillary Clinton. Some of Mueller’s charges seem somewhat small; for example, Stone was charged with lying because he said he and Credico communicated by phone but not by email when in fact, according to Mueller, they communicated by both phone and email. But in each case, Mueller says Stone knowingly made false statements.

On the other hand, the indictment does not accuse Stone of lying in some key instances when he defended himself against some of the most serious allegations of the Trump-Russia matter. Remember the media frenzy over Stone’s August 2016 tweet that it would soon be “the Podesta’s time in the barrel”? Remember Stone’s tweets with Guccifer 2.0? And remember his claim, “I dined with my new pal Julian Assange last night”? House investigators asked Stone many questions about those topics, which Stone answered. Mueller did not charge Stone with lying about those issues, or with any illegal underlying behavior, either.

First, a warning: It is impossible for the public to fully evaluate the Stone indictment. It is based entirely on Stone’s testimony to the Intelligence Committee, which took place on Sept. 26, 2017. There is, of course, a transcript of that testimony. It would be useful for anyone trying to understand the Stone case to read the transcript. It should already be public, because the committee voted unanimously last September to release it and other interview transcripts. But before actually releasing the documents, the committee sent them to the Director of National Intelligence for clearance, on the slight chance that they contained classified information. (The Stone interview was conducted in a nonclassified setting and concerned nonclassified events.) The DNI has had the Stone transcript for months, far longer than necessary to do a routine clearance. Yet it has not cleared the transcript for release, which means Stone’s testimony remains largely secret.

The Stone indictment, of course, contains snippets of the transcript. (The committee gave the transcript to Mueller.) But it is an indictment — a one-sided accusation — not a balanced picture of Stone’s entire testimony. Still, even though the whole transcript remains under wraps, some passages from it have been published, which can give us at least a hint of what Stone said.

The two places to find excerpts of Stone’s testimony are the Intelligence Committee’s Trump-Russia report, entitled “Report on Russian Active Measures,” published by majority Republicans on March 22, 2018, and the Democratic response, published on March 26, 2018.

The reports delved into Stone’s testimony about three particularly notorious public statements he made during the 2016 campaign. The first was the Aug. 21, 2016, tweet in which he wrote, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.” (The wording is exactly as Stone originally wrote it, although the tweet is often misquoted to read, more ominously, that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.’) The tweet has been interpreted to mean Stone predicted the October 2016 disclosure of hacked emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

According to the House GOP report, Stone denied that he “knew in advance about and predicted the hacking of…Podesta’s email,” noting that Stone said his tweet “makes no mention whatsoever of Mr. Podesta’s email.” Stone told the committee his motive was anger about the treatment of former partner Paul Manafort, saying the tweet was posted “at a time that my boyhood friend and colleague, Paul Manafort, had just resigned from the Trump campaign over allegations regarding his business activities in Ukraine. I thought it manifestly unfair that John Podesta not be held to the same standard.”

Mueller did not charge Stone in connection with his testimony about the “time in the barrel” matter.

The second part of Stone’s testimony that the reports dug into was his explanation of his August 2016 statement that, “I actually have communicated with Julian Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.” According to the Republican report, Stone told the committee that he wanted to “clarify that by saying the communication I refer to is through a journalist who I ask [sic] to confirm what Assange has tweeted, himself, on July 21st, that he has the Clinton emails and that he will publish them.”

The Democratic response went into some detail about the question of any Stone-Assange communications. In fact, it was on that topic that Democrats published the longest section of Stone testimony that is public — this exchange between Stone and Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley:

QUIGLEY: You never met with Julian Assange.

STONE: Correct.

QUIGLEY: You never communicated directly with him.

STONE: Correct.

QUIGLEY: You’ve never spoken to him on the phone.

STONE: I never communicated directly with him during the election, correct.

QUGLEY: Did you ever communicate with him outside of that timeframe?

STONE: We had some, I think, direct message responses in April of this year [2017].

QUIGLEY: You and Julian Assange?

STONE: Correct.

QUIGLEY: Can you make those available to the committee?

STONE: Yes, we can.

QUIGLEY: Okay. Had you ever communicated with him before the campaign?


QUIGLEY: So, back on this other streak, you’ve never emailed with him?

STONE: Correct.

QUIGLEY: Have you ever sent or received texts/SMS to and from Mr. Assange?


QUIGLEY: Have you ever communicated with Mr. Assange over any other social media platform or encrypted application?


Mueller did not charge Stone in connection with his denial that he had had any contact with Assange during the campaign.

Mueller did charge Stone on his testimony about using an intermediary — the radio host Randy Credico — to attempt to contact WikiLeaks. Quigley and ranking Democrat (now chairman) Adam Schiff asked Stone about that intermediary, and the resulting testimony formed the basis of one of Mueller’s charges against Stone. Here is the entirety of the passage published in the Democratic report:

QUIGLEY: And so, just to reiterate, in an Aug. 12, 2016, interview with Alex Jones on Infowars, you reiterated your contact with Julian Assange, quote “in communication with Assange,” adding, quote, “I am not at liberty to discuss what I have.” That was correct, too?

STONE: That is correct.

QUIGLEY: But you were referencing the same thing you pointed to before?

STONE: Again, I have sometimes referred to this journalist as a go-between, as an intermediary, as a mutual friend. It was someone I knew had interviewed Assange. And I merely wanted confirmation of what he had tweeted on the 21st. And that’s what I refer to.

QUIGLEY: — like Twitter, LinkedIn, anything?


QUIGLEY: Have any of your employees, associates, or individuals acting on your behest or encouragement been in any type of contact with Julian Assange?


QUIGLEY: Have you ever been in direct contact with a member of WikiLeaks, whether by phone, email, test, Twitter, encrypted message platforms, other social media platforms, or other means of communication?

STONE: I am not certain, but I don’t think so …

SCHIFF: Mr. Stone, I wanted to ask you, on Oct. 12, [2016], you gave an interview to NBC News where you said that: We have a mutual friend who’s traveled to London several times, and everything I know is through that channel of communication.


SCHIFF: Referring to a friend of Assange.


SCHIFF: And you said something similar in another interview on October — to CBS Miami. Did the intermediary tell you how often he traveled to London to meet with Mr. Assange?

STONE: No. I just knew he had been there a couple times.

SCHIFF: So throughout the many months in which you represented you were either in communication with Assange or communication through an intermediary with Assange, you were only referring to a single fact that you had confirmed with the intermediary —

STONE: That —

SCHIFF: — was the length and breadth of what you were referring to?

STONE: That is correct, even though it was repeated to me on numerous separate occasions.

Stone did not name Credico in his testimony, but a few weeks later, on Oct. 13, 2017, Stone wrote a letter to the committee identifying Credico as his sole go-between. Mueller charged Stone with making a false statement because Stone had also contacted Jerome Corsi, not just Credico, to act as a go-between with WikiLeaks.

The third issue the committee asked Stone about was his communication with the hacker Guccifer 2.0, identified in another Mueller indictment as a creation of Russian military intelligence agents. The Republican report said Stone described his tweets and direct messages with Guccifer 2.0 as “innocuous,” adding that Stone “denied taking action in response to Guccifer 2.0’s messages.” The GOP report noted that Stone later gave the committee additional messages involving WikiLeaks.

The Democratic report listed Stone’s tweets and direct messages with Guccifer 2.0. But the report included just one exchange about Guccifer 2.0, a request for more material from Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell:

SWALWELL: If we were to send you a request asking for any direct messages with respect to the 2016 campaign, particularly around Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, you would be cooperative and turn that over to us?

STONE: Well, I attached the exchange with Guccifer as an exhibit, and you’re welcome to look at it. Beyond that, we’d have to go review the material. I don’t know what’s there.

Stone later turned over more material to the committee.

What else did Stone say about Guccifer 2.0? Neither Republicans nor Democrats included any more of Stone’s testimony on that subject in their reports. But whatever Stone said, it did not serve as a basis for any charges from Mueller, who did not mention Guccifer 2.0 or any Stone statement about Guccifer 2.0 in the Stone indictment.

Finally, there was the big-picture question of whether Stone and the Trump campaign knew ahead of time about the WikiLeaks disclosure of hacked documents. A close reading of the Mueller indictment suggests they did not. In the House interview, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro asked Stone whether he knew in advance about the October 2016 Podesta disclosure:

CASTRO: You have now just told us that the intermediary told you in August that the emails would be released in October. Is that prior knowledge?

STONE: I guess you could consider it prior knowledge. I would have to go back and look. I think that Assange himself had said October on Twitter. I was seeking a confirmation of what he’d already said.

CASTRO: Mr. Stone, you’ve said multiple times here today that you had no prior knowledge. You’ve just now admitted that you had prior knowledge that these emails would be released.

STONE: I believe that was a — I think that was publicly known, in all honesty.

Mueller did not charge Stone with lying in that exchange.

What an indictment does not say can be as instructive as what it does say. To take another example from the Trump-Russia investigation, look at the indictment of Trump fixer Michael Cohen for lying to Congress. Mueller charged Cohen with lying when he told lawmakers that talks over the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project ended in January 2016, when in fact, according to Mueller, they continued until June 2016. But on another aspect of the Trump-Russia affair, Mueller did not charge Cohen when he strongly denied that he had ever been in Prague, which was a key allegation of the so-called Trump dossier. The fact that Mueller did not question Cohen’s Prague denial — in testimony that Mueller examined carefully and actually indicted Cohen for another statement — suggests that there’s nothing to the Prague story.

Similarly, there are the parts of Stone’s testimony that Mueller chose not to indict Stone over. Stone’s defense of himself in the “time in the barrel” matter, in his contacts with Guccifer 2.0, and in his lack of direct contacts with WikiLeaks all resulted in no accusations from Mueller. And, of course, the indictment did not charge that Stone knew about the WikiLeaks disclosures beforehand, or that he was involved in any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election, or that such a conspiracy even existed. Put it all together, and the Stone indictment adds up to less than it at first seems.

We will know more when the full transcript of Stone’s testimony is released, or rather, if it is released. A new statement from Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff, released after the Stone indictment, does not offer much hope of quick publication. “The first order of business for the committee will be to release all remaining transcripts to the Special Counsel’s Office, and we will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Schiff said. That is a pledge to quickly get the transcripts to Mueller, not to the public, even though Mueller already has the transcripts and the committee voted more than four months ago to make them public. It could be a long time before the public knows all of what Roger Stone said.

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