The Ukraine scandal and the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump have been drawing so much media attention that previous Trump-related scandals haven’t been in the news as much — for example, the looming criminal trial of the president’s long-time associate and self-described “dirty trickster” Roger Stone. But the U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t forgotten about Stone, who will appear in court beginning on Tuesday, November 5. And Stone, journalists David Corn and Dan Friedman report in Mother Jones, could still be problematic for Trump.
Stone is facing federal charges that include obstruction of justice and witness tampering. And when he goes to trial on November 5, Corn and Friedman note, he will also be “facing charges that he lied to Congress about his interactions with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign as the organization was publicly disseminating Democratic material stolen by Russian hackers.”
Explaining what Stone’s trial could mean for Trump, they add: “Though the trial will determine whether Stone tried to bamboozle a congressional investigation, it could answer two bigger questions about the president: did Trump use or try to use Stone as a conduit to WikiLeaks, and did Trump lie to Special Counsel Robert Mueller? The former might not be illegal; the latter could be a crime.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr publicly released, in redacted form, former Special Counsel Mueller’s final report for the Russia investigation — and most of the references to Stone in the report were redacted, Corn and Friedman point out, “because his trial was pending.” However, the journalists add that the Mueller Report “contains clues suggesting that the full story of Stone’s involvement in the Trump-Russia scandal goes beyond what’s publicly known — and that it implicates Trump.”
In 2016, Democratic e-mails were stolen by Russia hackers and given to WikiLeaks, which published them online — and Stone, in 2016, was in touch with both the Trump campaign and the Russian hacker known by the assumed identity Guccifer 2.0.
Corn and Friedman explain, “If Trump or his senior campaign aides thought Stone was communicating with WikiLeaks — whether or not he actually was — and they were receiving information from him related to WikiLeaks, that would mean they believed then that the Trump campaign had a back-channel contact to WikiLeaks as it participated in the Russian operation. Trump has long shouted there was ‘no collusion,’ but perhaps Trump thought at the time that he and his campaign were colluding. After all, a significant Trump adviser consorting with WikiLeaks at this point could be construed as some sort of collusion.”
And as journalist Marcy Wheeler argued on Sept. 6., pre-trial documents indicate that Trump was in closer contact with Stone in 2016 than he told Mueller during the Russia investigation. Trump told Mueller he spoke to Stone “from time to time during the campaign,” but the documents indicate that Trump “spoke to Stone a lot.”
Trump denied recalling any discussions with Stone on a number of fronts, saying: “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”
However, as Wheeler notes, the evidence for the Stone’s trial included seven different phone numbers for Trump — four for him personally and three for his assistants and bodyguard — suggesting they talked quite frequently. And though he didn’t charge the president for any lies, Mueller did indicate in his testimony to Congress that Trump’s answers to the special counsel were not all truthful. Stone’s trial could shed more light on this claim.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment strategy has clearly focused on the Ukraine scandal, largely leaving aside the Mueller Report. But as Corn and Friedman point out in their Mother Jones article, there is a connection between the two.
“In a way,” the Mother Jones journalists explain, “the Russia affair led to the Ukraine scandal, with Trump pressing the Ukrainian president to investigate — and prove — a nutty conspiracy theory that claimed Moscow did not hack the 2016 election.”
Stone’s trial, they add, will bring back memories of the Russia investigation at a time when the House will be weighing whether or not Trump’s Ukraine-related activities should result in articles of impeachment against him.
“This trial of a conniving Trump confidante who specializes in the political dark arts will be a reminder of the original scandal of the Trump Administration that has tainted and undermined his presidency,” Corn and Friedman report, “and it could add another big lie — and a possible crime — to Trump’s long record of wrongdoing.”