Roger Stone: Does his indictment point to collusion?
In the predawn gloom of last Friday morning, “decades of dirty tricks” finally caught up with Roger Stone, said Natasha Bertrand in TheAtlantic.com. The flamboyant 66-year-old, a longtime friend and adviser to Donald J. Trump who lent his mastery of political “black arts” to generations of Republican candidates, was arrested by a battalion of armed FBI agents at his Florida home. The charges: witness tampering, making false statements to Congress, and obstruction. Emerging later on bail from a federal courthouse, a defiant Stone flashed a Nixonian double-V sign and pledged loyalty to Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller has now indicted six members of Trump’s inner campaign circle, said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com, and Stone’s charging document drops a tantalizing hint of where the probe may be heading. Slipping “uncharacteristically” into the passive voice, the special counsel’s office writes that “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed [emphasis added] to contact Stone” for more information from WikiLeaks about the Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers. Given the tiny number of people in a position to “direct” a “senior” official, “that small turn of phrase carries serious implications for President Donald Trump.”
The Stone indictment looks fairly solid, said Jonathan Turley in USAToday.com. Mueller has records of several conversations that Stone claimed never happened, including several attempts to get messages to and information from WikiLeaks; in one communication, he urges a fellow witness to “do a Frank Pentangeli,” a reference to the Godfather II character who lies before Congress. But there is nothing here that implicates Trump, or “that can be fairly described as a criminal conspiracy.” In fact, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com, this indictment confirms that there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy. If a campaign official had to be “directed” to find out through Stone when WikiLeaks might release hacked Democratic emails, that means the Trump team was actually “in the dark” about WikiLeaks’, and Russia’s, plans.
What an interesting defense, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. “If you exclude the fact that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia through Stone and WikiLeaks, there was no coordination between Trump and Russia.” Um, what if Stone—who admits he regularly spoke to candidate Trump during this period—was the point man of the collusion? Every time there’s fresh evidence that the Trump team had contact with Russia and then lied about it, the president’s defenders examine it in perfect isolation, as if it all were “a disconnected sequence of events” with no obvious pattern. That game may only work for so long, said Julian Sanchez in The New York Times. The agents arresting Stone were also seen removing hard drives and other devices from his home. If those devices yield previously undiscovered conversations, we may remember Stone’s arrest as “the point when the investigation began to really heat up.”
What if there isn’t much more to reveal? asked David French in NationalReview.com. My working theory is that Trump’s inner campaign circle was an “ad hoc mix of comically inept crooks and grifters who were seeking any advantage they could,” including talking to WikiLeaks and Russians. Later, after the full extent of Russian election interference emerged, these clowns—including the cartoonish Stone, with his Richard Nixon back tattoo—began lying “to cover their tracks.” Did their crimes go beyond lying, to actual cooperation and coordination with Russia? Let’s hope Mueller concludes his investigation soon: The “drip, drip” of incremental revelations is driving the country crazy. ■