President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Stone was indicted last week and accused of lying about his efforts to gather information concerning hacked Democratic Party emails. The indictment alleges Stone sought that information before the election at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official. He faces charges of lying, obstruction and witness tampering.
When asked Tuesday whether he would consider pardoning Stone, Trump told The Washington Post, “I have not given it any thought.”
Stone, wearing a dark blue suit, appeared at a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson, and lawyer Robert Buschel formally entered his plea.
“A plea of not guilty is entered,” Robinson said in response.
As Stone walked into the courthouse Tuesday morning, some onlookers chanted “lock him up!” while others screamed their support for him and the president. After he went inside the courthouse, some of those people engaged in profanity-laced arguments about the case.
Prosecutors charge that in 2016, Stone repeatedly sought information about plans to release the hacked emails. By itself, those actions may not constitute a crime, but authorities say Stone lied to Congress when asked about those efforts. U.S. officials say the hacked emails were taken by Russian intelligence officials and then shared with the global anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, made them public.
On Monday, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker suggested that Stone’s indictment may be one of the last major steps in Mueller’s investigation, saying that he has been fully briefed on the special counsel’s work and that the probe is “close to being completed.”
In the courtroom Tuesday, prosecutors said the Stone case would be tried jointly by Mueller’s office and the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. They asked for no change to the terms of Stone’s release set by a Florida judge Friday. He was released on $250,000 bond, and the judge limited his movement to South Florida, Washington and New York City. Stone also is barred from possessing or applying for a passport.
The judge agreed with those conditions and scheduled the next court hearing for Feb. 1.
His court hearing Tuesday was far more understated than his initial appearance last week in Florida, when he held a news conference on the courthouse steps and raised his arms and made V-for-victory signs with his fingers, mimicking the famous image of his personal hero, former President Richard Nixon. Stone spent the weekend making media appearances to declare his innocence, criticize prosecutors and repeat his pledge that he would not testify against the president.
As he left the courtroom Tuesday, Stone said only that “I feel fine.” He was ushered out of the courthouse amid a raucous throng of reporters, supporters and protesters, one of whom brought speakers blaring the song “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
Stone, a veteran GOP operative and friend of Trump for four decades, briefly advised the candidate’s presidential campaign in 2015 and remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election.
The indictment focuses on Stone’s alleged efforts to learn when potentially damaging internal emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign would be released by WikiLeaks.
U.S. authorities in July indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officers on charges saying they hacked Democrats’ computers, stole their data and published those files to disrupt the 2016 election, using as one of their conduits WikiLeaks, the global anti-secrecy group, which publicized the emails during the campaign’s final months.
In Stone’s indictment, prosecutors charged that after the initial July 22, 2016, release of stolen 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.” The indictment does not name the campaign official or who directed the alleged outreach to Stone.
The indictment says Stone later told the campaign about potential future releases by “Organization 1,” which people familiar with the case identified as WikiLeaks.
Stone has given numerous media interviews during the months he has been under investigation, and he pre-empted prosecutors by publicly releasing many of the emails and texts he knew they were examining before they could be used in legal action.
Stone got his start in politics working for Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign and has a tattoo on his back of the disgraced ex-president. Since then, he has advised Republican and Libertarian candidates, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson.
Stone’s case will go next before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia for a scheduling hearing.
Stone has repeatedly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. He has said that he had no advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks held and that predictions he made about the group’s plans were based on Assange’s public comments and tips from associates.
Stone, WikiLeaks and Assange have said they never communicated with one another.
The seven-count indictment against Stone asserts that, after the election, he lied in congressional testimony about his activities and efforts to learn about the release of potentially damaging emails and that he attempted 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. A lawyer for Credico, Martin Stolar, has declined to comment.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Spencer S. Hsu, Ann E. Marimow, Devlin Barrett ·