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Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says he's falsely accused after indictment by special counsel in Russia investigation

Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has been under scrutiny for months by the special counsel for predictions he made in 2016 that WikiLeaks planned to release material damaging to Hillary Clinton. Bloomberg photo by Al Drago

WASHINGTON - Roger Stone , a longtime informal adviser to President Donald Trump, was arrested Friday by the FBI in Florida on charges that he lied and tried to tamper with a witness to hide his efforts to learn about releases of Democrats' hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Stone was charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with seven counts, including one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering. After the early morning arrest at his home, Stone appeared briefly in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wearing a blue polo shirt, jeans, and steel shackles on his wrists and ankles. The judge ordered him released on a $250,000 bond.

In charging Stone, Mueller has struck deep inside Trump's inner circle, charging a friend of the president in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The indictment charges Stone sought to gather information about hacked Democratic emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official, and then engaged in extensive efforts to keep secret the details of those efforts.

The 24-page indictment goes further than Mueller ever has toward answering the core question of his probe: Did Trump or those close to him conspire with the Kremlin? The indictment notes that prior to Stone's alleged actions in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee already announced it had been hacked by Russian government operatives , implying Stone must have known that. But the document also suggests Stone's mission was to find out what Wikileaks planned to do as far as releasing the stolen material - something that, on its own, would not necessarily constitute a crime.

After appearing in court, Stone stepped onto the courthouse steps, striking the famous pose of his personal hero, former president Richard Nixon, by raising his arms high and making "V" for victory signs with his fingers.

"I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court," he said to a crowd of about 300 reporters, supporters, and detractors. Some in the crowd jeered and chanted "lock him up." Others shouted support for Stone.

"There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself. I look forward to being fully and completely vindicated," Stone said. "I will not testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness."

Inside the courthouse, Stone told The Washington Post he and the president "never discussed any of these matters." He insisted he played no intermediary role between the campaign and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published the hacked emails, and denied that any campaign official asked him to reach out to the group, as Mueller has alleged.

Prosecutors, he said, "obviously think I'm the O.G. but I'm not," said Stone, referring to a slang expression for "original gangster."

With Stone's indictment, Mueller has struck deep inside Trump's inner circle, charging a long-standing friend of the president in the special counsel's ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The court filing charges Stone sought to gather information about hacked emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official, and then engaged in extensive efforts to keep secret the details of those efforts.

Trump tweeted angrily after the arrest. "Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better." The president also suggested someone may have tipped off CNN to record video of the early morning arrest, though there were growing signs Thursday at the grand jury in Washington that Stone could be charged soon.

The indictment centers on Stone's efforts to find out when potentially damaging emails internal to Hillary Clinton's campaign would be released by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks' leader. U.S. officials say Russian intelligence agents hacked Democrats and their email accounts and then shared them with WikiLeaks, which publicized them during the election's final months.

"After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails . . . a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign. Stone thereafter told the Trump campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1," the indictment states.

People familiar with the case said Organization 1 is WikiLeaks. The indictment does not identify the senior Trump campaign official, nor does it say who directed the senior campaign official to contact Stone. The indictment also does not accuse Stone of conspiring with Assange or Russian officials.

After the election, according to the indictment, Stone tried to cover up what he had done by lying about it to Congress and attempting to persuade another witness, identified only as "Person 2," to refuse to talk to the House Intelligence Committee. People close to the case said Person 2 is New York comedian Randy Credico.

As Credico prepared for possible testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Stone repeatedly pressured him not to reveal anything that would suggest Stone had misled the committee in his earlier denials, according to the indictment. In December 2017, authorities charge, Stone used a reference to one of the Godfather movies to try to keep Credico quiet.

"Stone told Person 2 that Person 2 should do a 'Frank Pentangeli' before [the committee] in order to avoid contradicting Stone's testimony," the indictment charges, adding: "Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film The Godfather: Part II, which both Stone and Person 2 had discussed, who testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know."

In the film, the Pentangeli character publicly declares, "I don't know nothin' about that," when asked at a congressional hearing about his career in the Mafia.

Stone, 66, who has been friends with Trump for three decades, served briefly as a formal adviser to his presidential campaign in 2015 and then remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election.

The GOP operative has been a key focus of the special counsel for months as Mueller has investigated whether anyone in Trump's orbit conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Stone did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but when previously asked about the idea he may have lied to Congress, said: "I don't think any reasonable attorney who looks at it would conclude that I committed perjury, which requires intent and materiality."

Trump's legal team said the Stone case posed no legal jeopardy for the president.

"Another false statement case? God almighty," Trump's lead lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said in an interview Friday morning, when asked what the indictment revealed about the special counsel. "I thought they were taking all this time with Stone to try to develop something on him, not to have a lot about 'I don't remember this' or 'I don't remember that.'"

Giuliani added, "They do have some alleged false statements and I don't want to minimize that. That's not right, you shouldn't do that. But there is no evidence of anything else but false statements. The president is safe here."

Giuliani said he spoke with Trump about the indictment Friday morning but declined to describe that conversation, other than to say the president was not nervous about the development.

Giuliani declined to discuss the indictment's mention of a Trump campaign official being directed to contact Stone and said he wanted to read the document carefully before responding.

After Stone said in December that he would never testify against Trump, the president tweeted approvingly: "Nice to know that some people still have "guts!"

Stone's indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Washington under seal Thursday pending his arrest.

U.S. Magistrate Deborah A. Robinson granted the sealing motion after Mueller's prosecutors stated, "law enforcement believes that publicity resulting from disclosure of the Indictment and related materials on the public record prior to arrest will increase the risk of the defendant fleeing and destroying (or tampering with) evidence."

Stone's case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia, the same judge hearing the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Separately, a longtime friend of Stone in New York City said she was notified this morning that agents plan to search his apartment there.

Kristin Davis said she received a call from an FBI agent at 6:15 a.m. regarding a search warrant for the Harlem apartment. She is no longer living in the apartment and referred the agent to a friend who is.

Davis said the FBI arrest "was intended to intimidate and scare him" but added: "Roger's a tough cookie. Roger's determined to fight. He's resilient."

During the White House race, Stone publicly cheered on the group WikiLeaks as it released hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Stone also claimed before the election that he was in contact with Assange, whom he called "my hero."

Last year, people familiar with the investigation into Assange said there are sealed criminal charges against him, but it is unclear if those relate to his 2016 activities or prior disclosures of U.S. government secrets.

Barry Pollack, a U.S.-based lawyer for Assange, said in an email, "The charges against Mr. Stone do not allege that Mr. Stone lied about his contacts with Julian Assange, but rather about his contacts with others and about documents reflecting those communications. The Office of Special Counsel has never spoken with Mr. Assange. It remains unknown what criminal charges have been brought against Mr. Assange in the Eastern District of Virginia. The government continues to refuse to explain to Mr. Assange or the public the nature of those charges."

He was also critical of the circumstances of Stone being taken into custody.

"The dawn military-style arrest of Mr. Stone, a 66 year old political consultant, was wholly unnecessary and served no purpose other than to intimidate," Pollack said.

In July, a grand jury indicted 12 Russian military officers on charges that they orchestrated the hacks and distributed pilfered documents to WikiLeaks and other sites.

After the election, Stone acknowledged exchanging what he characterized as benign messages with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter persona that U.S. intelligence officials say was a front operated by the Russian military officers.

But Stone has repeatedly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. He has said he had no advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks held, adding that predictions he made about the group's plans were based on Assange's public comments and tips from associates.

The investigation "has devolved into gotcha word games, perjury traps and trumped-up process crimes," Stone told The Washington Post late last year. "I think people can see through the political motivations behind this."

He added: "Where is the evidence of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration?"

In sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last year, Stone also denied any contact with WikiLeaks or knowledge of its plans, saying he did not intend to imply that he had communicated with Assange directly.

In a closed-door meeting late last year, the committee voted to turn over a copy of Stone's testimony to Mueller, who requested the document.

WikiLeaks and Assange have also said they never communicated with Stone, who the group said "was trolling to attract attention to himself," according to a tweet late last year by WikiLeaks's legal campaign.

During the campaign, Stone privately told associates that he was in contact with Assange and that WikiLeaks had material that would be damaging to Clinton. In an October 2016 email to Trump's then-chief campaign strategist Steve Bannon, Stone implied he had information about the group's plans.

In recent months, the longtime GOP operative has offered conflicting accounts of who provided him with tips about WikiLeaks's plans - first identifying Credico as his source and then acknowledging he also received information from conservative writer Jerome Corsi and through an email forwarded to him from then-Fox News correspondent James Rosen.

With Stone's indictment, the special counsel investigation has now led to charges against 34 people and guilty pleas by six Trump associates and advisers, including Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

None of those previous charges included allegations that Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the election - one of the main thrusts of Mueller's probe.

Trump has repeatedly denied any such coordination and has attacked the investigation as a "witch hunt."

Stone's indictment leaves unclear whether Mueller plans to charge an associate of his, conservative conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, with lying to investigators about his interactions with Stone. Last year, Corsi was nearing a plea deal with prosecutors before he balked and accused them of trying to force him to say something untrue.

Corsi is not identified by name in the Stone indictment, which instead refers to him as "Person 1." His lawyers issued a statement Friday saying the indictment "is accurate with regard to references to Dr. Corsi" and his testimony.

Stone got his start in politics working for Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign and sports a tattoo on his back depicting the disgraced ex-president, whom he considers a personal hero.

Since then, he has advised Republican and Libertarian candidates, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson. He also helped reshape Washington lobbying, founding a successful firm in the 1980s with Manafort that represented top companies and foreign governments.

Stone has told The Post that he remained in contact with Trump "from time to time" during the campaign.

"I'll tell you one thing we've never talked about is Russia or Russian influence," Stone said in an interview last year. "We've never talked about it."

This article was written by Rosalind S. Helderman, Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Manuel Roig-Franzia, reporters for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Tom Hamburger, Robert Costa, Matt Zapotosky, Spencer S. Hsu, Tim Elfrink and Lori Rozsa contributed to this report. Rozsa reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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