It’s no surprise that Roger Stone has been indicted. He has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Over lunch last November, he told Cockburn he fully expected Robert Mueller’s hammer to fall. It was just a matter of when. We met at one of his favorite places, Café Europa in Fort Lauderdale. Stone was – as usual – immaculately turned out, wearing a double-breasted blue blazer and brilliant white shirt. He ordered the rigatoni Bolognese and then set out his strategy. It would be to use the trial process to expose the workings of the ‘deep state,’ which Stone and his former boss, Donald Trump, say invented a Russia ‘scandal’ to overturn the result of the presidential election. Stone will argue that he was being surveilled illegally, an echo of the President’s famous tweet that ‘Obama had my wires tapped’.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The grand jury convened by Mueller’s prosecutors brought seven charges against Stone, accusing him of lying to the FBI and to Congress about the publication by WikiLeaks of emails belonging to the Democrats – those emails supposedly hacked by the Russians. Stone is also accused of ‘witness tampering’ in texts and emails sent to two associates once the subpoenas started to roll in. The indictment quotes texts it says were sent to a ‘Person 2’. This is Randy Credico, a left-wing radio talk-show host who was an unlikely ally of Stone’s during the campaign in 2016. Later, according to the indictment, Stone tries to get him to shut up: ‘I’m not talking to the FBI and if you’re smart you won’t either.’
In the indictment, Mueller’s prosecutors say that Stone told Credico that if he had to appear before the House Intelligence Committee, he should do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’. In The Godfather II, Frank ‘Five Angels’ Pentangeli is coached by the FBI to give evidence against Michael Corleone to a Senate committee. But when he sits in front of the microphone, he is struck by amnesia. ‘I never knew no Godfather. I got my own family, Senator.’ In Stone’s indictment, the prosecutors explain, drily: ‘A Frank Pentangeli is a character … who testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know.’
The indictment also says that after Credico became a government witness, Stone sent him this beautifully worded text: ‘You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends – run your mouth, my lawyers are dying [to] rip you to shreds.’ We don’t know if Stone and his defense team will accept all this as accurate. But you can certainly hear Stone’s voice in the texts quoted in the indictment. Assuming they are accurate, how did Mueller get them? This is a question Stone intends to exploit.
At the Fort Lauderdale lunch, Stone gave more details of his legal strategy. ‘The thing that interests me and my lawyers is a New York Times report – on inauguration day, January 20 2017, well ahead of the appointment of Robert Mueller – that I’m under surveillance. So then the question becomes, what’s the probable cause and when does it begin? If there’s an actual warrant they have to go into court, make a case to a judge, there’s a record.’
But Stone has long suspected that there was no warrant, at least not at first. He said that Mueller’s team might have had to go to court to do a ‘well-constructed’ application after the fact ‘to hide that I was not legally surveilled the first time’. When we met in November, Stone said he had not been able to get at the truth of this. But ‘if they do bring a charge against me, then I can do it in discovery’. That is the position he’s now in. And if there was no warrant, how did he think the US government knew so much about him?
‘This is really the Brits and the Australians. They were doing the dirty [work] for the Central Intelligence Agency. When J. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI, Richard Nixon was visiting Hong Kong and the Bureau was concerned that Nixon was having an affair with a woman who was a Chinese spy. So they asked British intelligence to surveil Nixon. And they did. When Hoover sat down with Nixon immediately after his inauguration, he pulled out of an envelope a picture of Nixon with that Chinese woman and said, “By the way, Mr President, you don’t have to worry about this, these are safe with me.”’
This is what President Trump and his allies believe James Comey did as FBI director when he told Trump about the Steele ‘dossier’. And when Trump wouldn’t roll over, they say, the Russia ‘scandal’ followed. Stone says, So what if he was trying to get dirt on Hillary from WikiLeaks, or anyone – that’s politics. ‘Where’s the crime?’ So far, it’s true, the charges brought by Mueller against Stone are about ‘process,’ accusing him of making false statements and interfering with witnesses. But Mueller is not showing his full hand yet. His prosecutors paint a picture of Stone co-ordinating with WikiLeaks after the hack by the Russians; the bigger allegation is that the Trump campaign was co-ordinating with the Russians themselves all along. This is either the ‘collusion’ that Trump’s enemies imagine or ‘fake news’ manufactured by the ‘deep state,’ depending on your point of view.
So Stone’s defense in court will be an attack on the ‘deep state’ and its methods. Stone will noisily defend himself outside court as well. He said in Fort Lauderdale: ‘I think that when you’re charged in the public arena, it’s a mistake to go quiet.’ His longstanding rule – for politics, and life – is: ‘Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.’ Mueller can expect a fight.