Roger Stone failed to learn a crucial lesson from his idol, Richard Nixon: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
The dramatic arrest in Florida, shown on CNN, was for alleged cover-up crimes such as lying to Congress and encouraging others to lie. Every word of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 24-page, seven-count indictment is worth savoring. It reads like a gangster novel and actually references The Godfather.Because Stone’s mantra has always been “deny, deny, deny”, it’s unlikely that he will do what Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen did and become Mueller’s witness against the US president in the Russia investigation. But the Stone indictment is crucially important because it directly links the Trump campaign to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the hacked Democratic emails that helped sink Hillary Clinton and showed Russia’s hand in the 2016 election. It reveals that a Trump campaign official was “directed to contact Stone” about what else WikiLeaks might have on Hillary Clinton after an initial leak. The indictment doesn’t say who told the unnamed campaign official to get Stone to find out what dirt WikiLeaks had on Clinton. There are, of course, a few tantalizing possibilities.
Stone and Trump go way back. They were fused together by the disreputable New York lawyer RoyCohn, who once worked for Senator Joe McCarthy. Stone and Trump talked all the time. It’s logical that he would have been the one trusted to get to the bottom of Wikileaks’ dirt.
With the charges against Stone, Mueller has indicted another member of the Trump inner circle. He had already indicted Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager at a crucial time when the emails hacked by Russia began to leak out in the summer of 2016. Manafort was convicted and has been languishing in jail for months. He was once partners with Stone in an influential Washington lobbying firm. The puzzle pieces are beginning to fit together.
Some of the most serious charges against Stone involve witness tampering to conceal his connection with WikiLeaks. Stone used intermediaries, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and radio host Randy Credico (“Person 2” in the indictment) to get the goods to try to connect with Assange. At one point, the indictment says, Stone tried to pressure Credico to lie when he was called to testify before the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence so that he wouldn’t contradict Stone’s testimony before the same panel. Credico took the fifth amendment.
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”.
If this is all starting to sound like something straight out of a gangster movie, it is.
The indictment actually references The Godfather and charges that Stone pushed Credico to pull a Pentangeli, evoking a character from Godfather 2, Frank Pentangeli (AKA “Five Angel Frankie”). In the movie, the Pentangeli character lies to Congress to protect the Corleone family declaring:, “I don’t know nothin’ about that.”
Lying, witness tampering and obstruction are at the core of Mueller’s case against Stone but, naturally, the president and his lawyer downplayed it. “Another false statement case? God almighty,” Rudy 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’.” Trump let fly his usual rant on Twitter about “witch-hunt”.
With the indictment of Stone, 66, Mueller has ensnared someone who has known Trump for 30 years. But so far, like any member in good standing with the mafia, he has either lied or kept his mouth shut.
Still, the indictment is a leap forward. The connection between the Russian hacking, WikiLeaks and the senior level of the Trump campaign is made tighter, seemingly airtight.
Although the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the special counsel is wrapping up, the Stone indictment shows he’s still steaming ahead.
The indictment was such bad news for Trump that it was predictable that he would try to squash it with an even bigger story, his surprise agreement to end the government shutdown in three weeks, which quickly took the lead on most websites.
For a news cycle, that strategy of distraction may obscure the criminality of someone who has been among Trump’s closest consiglieri. But Mueller still has the upper hand and the Stone indictment may go down in history as a crucial moment that contributed to another president’s downfall.