Roger Stone’s indictment wasn’t a surprise. On Friday morning, the Republican strategist and longtime adviser to President Trump was arrested by FBI agents and indicted in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Stone has been predicting for months that he would eventually be criminally implicated in Mueller’s investigation, and sure enough, he was charged with seven counts, including witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, and making false statements.
The charges are related to Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, when the organization released thousands of emails from Democratic officials that were allegedly hacked by Russian agents. According to the indictment, Trump campaign officials were interested in learning about WikiLeaks’ releases of the stolen information that might be damaging to Hillary Clinton and an unnamed senior campaign figure was even “directed” to reach out to Stone to ask about the timing of future releases and the nature of the information WikiLeaks had about Clinton.
The documents don’t spell out a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. Stone left his official role with the campaign in August 2015 and was only serving as an informal adviser in the summer and fall of 2016, when he was allegedly in touch with WikiLeaks. But the latest development is significant because unlike previous indictments of people close to Trump, which were for charges like unrelated financial wrongdoing or making false statements about a real estate deal, Stone’s indictment is the first time Mueller has charged someone connected to Trump’s campaign with misconduct related to Russia’s election interference. The indictment also indicates that Mueller has evidence that Trump campaign officials were aware of the existence of the stolen emails before they were released.
Stone is the 34th person charged in Mueller’s probe.
On its face, the Stone indictment doesn’t include much information that wasn’t already in the public eye. Stone talked in public and in private about the leaks of the stolen Democratic emails throughout the 2016 campaign and claimed in August 2016 to have communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Previous reporting had also outlined how Stone promoted himself to the Trump campaign as a backchannel to WikiLeaks and revealed his attempts to intimidate Randy Credico, a radio talk show host and “Person 2” in the indictment.
Overall, though, Stone also hasn’t been charged with anything that actually occurred during the campaign, like conspiring with WikiLeaks. The wrongdoing outlined in the indictment revolves around various attempts by Stone to mislead congressional investigators in 2017 by making false statements about his communication with WikiLeaks and then bullying Credico into backing up his story.
The details do make for a much more colorful read than your typical court document: According to the indictment, Stone threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, and told Credico to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI [the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony” — a reference to “The Godfather: Part II,” where a character lies in congressional testimony.
But the real unknown is how Stone’s alleged misconduct fits into the broader picture that Mueller has been painting through court documents for over a year. In his previously filed indictments, which have been quite detailed, Mueller has told the story of a complex campaign by the Russians to influence the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit, both through online influence campaigns and email hacking.
What’s still not clear is whether Trump campaign officials — or even the candidate himself — actively coordinated with Russia in these efforts. The Stone indictment doesn’t answer that question, which could mean a few things. It may be that Mueller’s team doesn’t have evidence to show that direct communication with WikiLeaks went any higher than Stone or that the Trump campaign was working with Russia in other ways. Or it could mean that Mueller is still filling in the story and that more answers are coming in future indictments.